Nineteen-year-old Sloane Stephens became the talk of the sports world when she upset Serena Williams at the Australian Open quarterfinals, and she certainly advanced the family name (especially in the Twitter world) by doing so. But she's not the first member of the Stephens family to gain fame in sports. Her father John, selected in the first round of the 1988 NFL draft out of Northwestern State, won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award that season after he gained 1,168 yards and scored four touchdowns on 297 carries.
Stephens played seven years in the league -- five for the Patriots, one for the Green Bay Packers, and one for the Kansas City Chiefs -- and he was out of football after the 1993 season. That was the same year Sloane Stephens was born.
Sadly, John Stephens is no longer with us to enjoy his daughter's athletic exploits -- he died in an automobile accident in September of 2009 on a stretch of Louisiana's Highway 169 when he lost control of his truck, veered off the highway, and hit some trees. Sloane Stephens didn't really know her father -- the two had met just a few times until they established a phone relationship.
John Stephens was a conflicted personality -- honored in his rookie season for his humanitarian work, but put on probation in 1994 after he pleaded guilty to rape charges in Missouri. A pending sexual assault charge followed in early 2009, which was still pending at the time of Stephens' death.
John Stephens was also suffering from a degenerative bone disease, and wanted to get to know his daughter before he passed away.
“I wanted her to have pride in him,” Sybil Smith, Sloane's mother, told the New York Times in 2009. “I’m telling you, John was a very good man with addiction issues that were never addressed early on.”
The hardest part of that relationship for Smith was having to tell her daughter of her father's past.
“She said, ‘Mom, why didn’t you tell me this?’ ” Smith said.
“It’s very sad,” she added, her eyes welling with tears, “because Sloane and her dad became so close. They had a great friendship. She knew a part of her dad that was all good and she was able to be proud of him.
“One of the things I told her,” Smith concluded at the time, “is this is the only time you’ll get to say goodbye to your dad and to see the memory of your dad and the legacy of your dad and the people who really loved him. This is the time to feel that love.”
Asked about her rooting interest in the upcoming Super Bowl after the upset win over Williams, Sloane Stephens said that "I don’t really watch professional football, but I want the Ravens to win. I love Ray Lewis and he’s retiring soon.”
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