William Gay was 8 when his mother dropped him and his two stepbrothers off at their grandmother’s home in Tallahassee, Florida. A few hours later, Gay was surprised to see his father show up and tell the boys to get in his car.
“We went straight to the hospital,” Gay said Thursday.
He didn’t get to say goodbye to his mother. She was already dead, having been shot three times in the head by Gay’s stepfather, who later killed himself.
Twenty-five years later, Gay recalled the incident Thursday at the Giants’ training facility, still emotional about what happened.
“You never really get over it,” he said. “You lost a loved one. You lost your mother.”
Yet Gay has found meaning in his pain by sharing his experience with others in hopes of raising awareness about domestic violence. Though still new to the Giants after signing as a free agent in April, Gay opened up to his teammates Wednesday afternoon following an annual presentation by the NFL about domestic violence and sexual harassment.
“Most guys probably didn’t know about what happened to me, but that’s the family part of it,” said Gay, 33, a former Steelers defensive back who played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with Pittsburgh. “When you hear your brother went through a tragedy and you see him smile every day, it’s like, wow. I just tried to show them you can overcome a lot of things, a lot of adversity.”
Gay could never have imagined he’d be in position to help others after his ordeal. For most of his young life after his stepfather had murdered his mother, he simply tried to survive the best he could after being taken care of by his grandmother. Over time, he found his voice.
“I wasn’t afraid to talk about it, I just didn’t want any sympathy from anyone,” he said. “The Steelers knew my story, and I was told that whenever I wanted to do something or talk to somebody about it to let them know. The spirit moved me one day, and I went to a women’s shelter. I just sat there with the women and the kids. People didn’t know if I was there just because I was a football player, but when I told my story, it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ ”
He continued to share his experience, and found it to be therapeutic — both for himself and the people with whom the message resonated. “I didn’t have to hide my story anymore and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m helping myself and somebody else.’ I just went from there.”
Gay began to hear stories of survival from domestic abuse victims, and was heartened that he could offer assistance. There was the story about “the lady who was trapped in the house by her husband, and he was holding a gun to their newborn’s head and she didn’t know what to do. She ended up getting out with all her kids. Just situations like that and they remember my story and what my mom went through. It’s good to hear it, because it’s real.”
Gay plans to work with “My Sisters’ Place,” a White Plains-based organization that strives to end domestic violence and human trafficking through comprehensive services, advocacy and community education. The Giants have had a longstanding partnership with the group, and representatives from “My Sisters’ Place” met with the team at Wednesday’s event.
“I will eventually go to visit shelters and get to meet the families,” he said.
He will continue to share his tragic experience with others, offering his story to help others.
“What you do is come to terms with what happened,” he said. “You have to move forward, like your mother wants you to move forward, and be successful in life, with whatever you do. I’ve always kept that in mind.”
A worthy message from a good man.