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O’Connell: Remembering The Life Of Beloved Friend Will Smith

(Sean O'Connell's wedding in June 2018 with former and current radio hosts and producers)

Editor’s Note: Will Smith worked in the Utah sports radio market for a number of years and was a host and producer.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah sports media community lost a great one this week. Will Smith is loved by all who worked with him.

That probably sounds like a trite thing to say. A platitude to take the edge off of his passing. But in Will’s case, it’s true. I don’t know of anybody whose path crossed with Will’s who has a bad thing to say about him. If you have listened to Utah sports radio at any point in the past decade, you’ve either heard Will’s voice, or you’ve heard a show influenced by his voice, mind, and hard work.

Whether you are privileged to call him a friend, or you just caught a segment in your car, you’ve spent a moment in his sphere of influence. One of the special things about Will is that he appreciated both equally.

Most of the time, Will and I laughed together. Our relationship is one built mostly on mutual ridicule and affectionate insults. Nobody ever says things the way Will Smith does, even if they are trying to state the same thing.

He is a true storyteller, the kind that can make any tale interesting and worth listening to. His is a unique, quizzical, sometimes-jarring, voice that you can’t find elsewhere. That voice made him invaluable to a broadcast.

Will always has something odd to say to bring a smile to your face. Or he might say something quite normal in an odd way, which is likely even funnier. If you are lucky he might also on rare occasion share something tender about his admiration for his own brother or sweet baby girl.

There have also been times that I needed to hear something besides praise or humor, when it was my own laziness or ego or some other flaw that needed to be discussed. Will has come through for me more than once on that front. I’ve never liked it. But I’ve needed it.

Even as I am torn whether it is even appropriate for me to write something about Will. I haven’t seen him since my wedding last June. So many people much closer to Will are more deserving of a chance to tell us about him, about what he means in their life, and about how they are feeling today.

Maybe I am not close enough to Will Smith to be the one to say something about him on the day, but I think I know something about him that you might not, so I want to share it.

I know Will to be hilarious. I know Will to be kind. I know him to be a sensitive, sweet man who took time for others and rooted for the underdog. I know Will to be proud of his Mormon Kaysville roots, while also worrying that those roots might not be quite so proud of him. I know Will to be fun-loving and reckless.

I know him to be smart and understanding, possessed of a rare social intelligence manifested as disarming wit. I know Will to be a man who loves his family, and his young daughter above all. I know Will Smith to be a loyal friend, the kind where you pick up right where you left off even if you haven’t seen one another or spoken in a while.

I know Will to be a lot of wonderful things, and I know there were a few not-so-wonderful things about him too. But today it feels most important to tell you that I know Will Smith to be an unfailing truth-teller.

If Will Smith tells you that you are right, and doing a good job- it’s true. He might be the only person around to speak up and tell you the opposite. In this case, I can assure you, that you are hearing the truth… In a world of fragile egos and power-struggles like sports-talk radio, being so compelled to share honestly and openly is not always the wisest thing.

In a space that often requires the careful manipulation of speech so as not to offend, or jeopardize one’s reputation, or startle the sensitivities of decision-makers, I’ll forever admire Will Smith’s complete lack of guile.

I’ll be in awe of the heedless manner in which Will shares his opinions, his strengths and triumphs, and his best moments, whatever they are. More impressively, Will’s unvarnished testimony of his struggles, weaknesses, insecurities, failures and flaws have always showed us what he is. A man who tells the truth, seemingly, not for the sake of being noble or proving a point so much as for the reason that the alternative just doesn’t make sense.

If Will loves you, you know it, because he tells you. The people he admires know it, because he speaks openly about it. I hope Will knows that I love him for that. When Will screws up, he admits it. He will probably be the one to call attention to it, actually. He doesn’t hide his faults or justify his terrible “hot takes” after the fact. He is unapologetically – often hilariously – accountable for the bad decisions he makes.

I hope that the others who know him appreciate it about him too. I hope that his daughter will always know about her daddy’s honest nature. It’s hard to be like Will Smith. Someone who tells the truth whether it makes him look cool or not, whether it helps him keep the job or not, whether it pleases people or not.

Still; whether painful, joyful, silly, or mundane, our friend Will seemingly always calls it like he sees it. I hope that you listen to and read all of the great stories others will share about Will, and I hope you know that he is an honest, kind, sweet, soul that has never been afraid of the truth.

My beliefs mean that I hesitate to write about or speak about Will in the past-tense. I don’t know where he is exactly, but I know he is somewhere. I know that a huge, affable spirit such as his doesn’t just disappear. I sincerely hope he knows how much so many of us miss him already, and that he leaves a stamp on our little corner of the sports world. I hope he knows that we wish we’d do a better job of staying in touch, and in showing him the same kind of appreciation, admiration, and care that we could count on him for.

I want to know that he is comfortable in the fond place he will occupy in the hearts of so many whose lives he has been part of, and that he is appreciated and respected for his help and hard work, both in the sports broadcasting world, and in friendship. He is just…. good. I wish he could see it as easily as we can.

We love you Will Smith. William, Wull Smitz. HDT Forever…