Nearly 1,000 attend Joe McKnight funeral: 'It really just got real'

ByMike Triplett ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 13, 2016

NEW ORLEANS -- Joe McKnight's funeral had a beautiful New Orleans feel to it Monday, with a brass band playing as several of his former New York Jets teammates carried out his casket after a stirring, emotional ceremony in front of nearly 1,000 loved ones and members of his hometown community.

"You think about teammates and what that means. It's an extension of family. You become family," former Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "You're here to support him as an extension of his family. Support for his son, who's gonna need guidance and memories and stories of the type of man that his father was."

McKnight, a legendary high school football star in New Orleans who went on to play running back for USC, the Jets, the Kansas City Chiefs and in the Canadian Football League, played three seasons in New York and clearly left an impact.

Former Jets teammates includingMark Sanchez, Antonio Cromartie, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Willie Colon and Demario Davisand former USC and NFL running back LenDale Whiteflew in for the funeral service at New Orleans' New Home Ministries.

"There's a brotherhood and a camaraderie that we shared," Sanchez said. "And so it's tough to lose someone like that. So we just wanted to show our support."

"He was a brother to me," said Scott, who said he vacationed with McKnight and their children played together. "It was a tough loss. Joe had the ability to make everybody feel like he was your best friend. He was a caring, thoughtful, cool cat.

"Stepping in front of the church, it really just got real. The emotions start to come, and you realize that you really lost somebody close. We have a very tight-knit fraternity. It's gonna be a tough one to handle. But what makes it easier is that we have each other to lean on. Everybody's taking this pretty hard."

McKnight's funeral came against a backdrop of a gun violence plague in New Orleans.

McKnight was shot and killed on Dec. 1 in an apparent road rage incident. Less than 12 hours before his funeral, a jury convicted Cardell Hayes of manslaughter for killing former New Orleans Saints standout Will Smith in a similar incident on April 9.

The man who shot McKnight, 54-year-old Ronald Gasser, was charged with manslaughter five days later in what authorities have hinted could become a "Stand Your Ground" self-defense case.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department has faced heavy criticism for not levying a murder charge (though such a charge could be made at a later date) and for initially releasing Gasser while the investigation continued.

Sheriff Newell Normand said the dispute between the men started on a bridge and proceeded into a New Orleans suburb, with both men driving erratically and yelling at each other. Eventually, the cars came to a stop, and McKnight confronted Gasser, who was still seated in his car, the sheriff said. Gasser pulled out a gun and shot McKnight three times, killing him. When deputies arrived, the sheriff said Gasser handed them his gun and said he shot McKnight, 28.

McKnight's family attorney, George Tucker, said after the funeral that the family is hoping Gasser will face the same charges as Smith's killer, who was charged with second-degree murder before a jury chose the lesser sentence. Hayes was never released from jail after the night of the shooting.

"Right now, we're just hoping to see that the district attorney will do what it seems the sheriff is hoping that he doesn't do," Tucker said. "This community and this family, whether it be the football community, the sports community, the concerned community, those that have a problem with the way things are happening as far as violence, don't understand [the sheriff's] stance because it seems to promote people shoot first and try to resolve it later. That seems to be the message he's sending: 'If in doubt, take him out.'"

"New Orleans has had enough of it," Tucker added. "Hopefully it won't become an invitation for those that want to live lawless to shoot it out in the street. ... We're not comfortable with that being the message from law enforcement."

McKnight's high school coach, J.T. Curtis -- a local legend in his own right for overseeing the football powerhouse at John Curtis Christian High School -- said Monday's ceremony was uplifting, and he hopes the message of having Christ in people's hearts will resonate in a community tormented by gun violence.

"If anything comes of this, I hope that we will come to a position and a place in our country, in our community, that we're gonna recognize we've gotta change," Curtis said. "We cannot continue to have the same behavior repeat itself over and over again without the leaders in our community, in our schools, to be able to change people's lives.

"The definition of insanity is to continue to repeat an act and expect a different outcome. And we're not getting a different outcome. We're gonna have to do something to re-examine who we are, the adults in this community, and what we're teaching."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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