NFL's Diontae Spencer Fights to End Gun Violence After Dad Was Killed in 2010 Robbery

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Elaine Aradillas
·4 min read
NFL's Diontae Spencer Fights to End Gun Violence After Dad Was Killed in 2010 Robbery
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Professional Athletes Who Survived Gun Violence Share Stories of Pain – and Purpose

Four professional athletes (Devereaux Peters, DeAndre’ Bembry, Stedman Bailey, and Diontae Spencer) reveal the horrific moments when gunfire altered their lives — and how they’re working to stop the shootings.

Diontae Spencer was a student at McNeese State University in Louisiana when he received a phone call that changed his life.

"Never in a million years did I think I'd be getting a phone call, being a freshman in college in my dorm, finding out that my dad was just killed," he tells PEOPLE. "Looking back at the whole thing, you kind of think you're in a dream, but you're really not."

On Sept. 23, 2010, Spencer's father Clifton Williams Jr., was shot and killed during a robbery inside his barbershop in New Iberia, Louisiana. Spencer was heartbroken over the loss, and even more devastated once he learned the crime was committed by someone he knew.

RELATED: Professional Athletes Who Survived Gun Violence Share Stories of Pain — and Purpose

"The guy that shot him, I knew him personally from growing up, playing basketball and stuff like that," he says. "You have to decide whether you're going to sit and be angry, and be frustrated and get revenge and all those different things."

For more on how a group of athletes survived gun violence and now work to combat it, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands now.

Justin Edmonds/AP/Shutterstock Diontae Spencer

Spencer decided to move forward with his life, remembering the words his father instilled in him: Can't stop. Won't stop. But as Spencer went on to find success as an NFL player, he kept his life-changing moment to himself. After more than a decade, he realized he could support others by sharing his story.

On Jan. 19, Spencer, now a wide receiver for the NFL's Denver Broncos, sat down with three other professional athletes — Devereaux Peters, a now-retired WNBA forward; Stedman Bailey, a former wide receiver for the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and DeAndre' Bembry, guard for the NBA's Toronto Raptors — for an intimate conversation about their personal experiences with gun violence and how it affected them.

RELATED: After Being Shot Twice in Head, Ex-NFL Player Stedman Bailey Says He's a 'Walking Miracle'

The virtual roundtable event, in partnership with PEOPLE and the nonprofit advocacy organization Everytown for Gun Safety, brought the athletes together ahead of National Gun Violence Survivors Week, which runs this week through Friday. The athletes are all members of the Everytown Athletic Council, whose members highlight the gun violence crisis, often with very personal stories.

(Watch the full People Features: Gun Violence Survivor Athletes panel above, or streaming now on PeopleTV.com. The discussion was also featured on last Thursday's episode of PEOPLE: (The TV Show!), and the segment appears below.)

Professional Athletes Who Survived Gun Violence Share Stories of Pain — and Purpose

Ahead of National Gun Violence Survivors Week, Feb. 1-7, PEOPLE and Everytown for Gun Safety partnered for a virtual roundtable discussion

RELATED: Professional Athletes Who Survived Gun Violence Share Stories of Pain — and Purpose

Nearly 40,000 Americans are killed with guns every year in America — and approximately 85,000 more are shot and wounded, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

"I'm finally able to talk about this and not get emotional," Spencer says about his father. "But I feel like we have to reach the youth right now, because that's where [gun violence is] happening… We can't save the whole world, but if we can reach one kid that might change everything for that child."

PEOPLE (the TV Show!) is a half-hour daily TV show inspired by the brand's unique combination of the most popular celebrity and inspirational human-interest stories, including entertainment news, exclusive interviews, feature stories, beauty and style, true crime and more. The show airs Monday-Friday in all 12 Meredith markets, including Atlanta, Phoenix, St. Louis, Portland, Nashville, Kansas City, Hartford-New Haven, Greenville-Spartanburg, Las Vegas, Mobile-Pensacola, Flint-Saginaw and Springfield-Holyoke.

The show is hosted by Kay Adams and Lawrence K. Jackson with correspondents Jeremy Parsons and Sandra Vergara. You can also stream the show daily at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on People.com, PeopleTV app (OTT) and PEOPLE's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts.