Washington Commanders player helps DV survivors

Bella Lee, Staff writer

TW: sexual assault, rape

Players in the NFL always have a way of reaching out to the community. Whether it’s giv- ing back to the towns they grew up in or providing support in the event of natural disasters, it’s these players’ ways of saying thank you. One player, however, has been standing out as of late.

James Smith-Williams, a de- fensive end for the Washington Commanders, has been assisting in tackling incidents of sexual and domestic violence.

As a student at North Carolina State University, Smith-Williams heard an advocate named Bren da Tracy speak about surviving a gang rape by college football players.

She shared a message that deeply resonated with him. “Her biggest takeaway was, ‘If you’re a good man, what are you doing to be a good man?’” Smith-Williams said, “That really stuck with me.”

Following this eye-opening experience, Smith-Williams dedicated himself to making a platform that would help raise awareness on this issue as well as support survivors.

He founded the Champions program of Tracy’s nonprofit Set The Expectation to create a network of athletes who raise money and awareness for nonprofits that support survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence.

During the month of October, Smith-Williams has been supporting the Purple Leash Project, an initiative by Purina and the nonprofit RedRover to help domestic violence shelters become pet-friendly.

This was in response to the discovery that only about 15% of domestic violence shelters welcome pets.

“About half of the people who are in domestic violence situations delay leaving because of their pet. They have nowhere to go with their pet,” Smith-Williams said. “Pets are family too.”

In a 2021 survey by the non- profit Urban Resource Institute and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 97% of survivors reported pets are an important factor in deciding whether or not to seek shelter, and half would not consider leaving without their pets.

Additionally, over a third of survivors have reported their abuser threatening to hurt or kill their pet. Therefore, in a world where an emotional support pet can be important in helping a survivor recover, it’s crucial that shelters welcome pets more often.

On Dec. 4, for the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats, in which players wear customized cleats to support their favorite causes during week 13 of the season, Smith-Williams plans to wear cleats designed by Purina in honor of the Purple Leash Project, and then donate them to an auction to benefit the cause.

As someone who owns a rescue dog named Luna, himself, Smith-Williams knows firsthand how comforting it can be to come home to a pet, especially after a stressful or even threatening situation.

“She’s been through so many transitions with me. She’s been that one constant,” Smith-Williams said. “I’ll come home and her tail is wagging and she’s excited to see me. That unconditional love that you get from a pet that you’re not going to find anywhere else…I just love her so much.”

In a time where NFL players continue to give back to the community time after time, the work that Smith-Williams does for survivors of domestic violence is sure to last a lifetime.