Sloane Stephens’ father, John Stephens, died in a car accident on September 9, 2009. According to NESN, John ran his truck off of Louisiana Highway 169 near Shreveport, Louisiana. John was not wearing a seatbelt, and was thrown from the vehicle after the truck collided with trees head-on. The death was ruled an accident with no sign of foul play.
“It appeared Stephens lost control and tried to overcorrect his steering, causing him to cross back over the road and hit the trees,” the sheriff’s office told NESN.
Sloane had a complicated relationship with her father. According to Sports Illustrated, Sloane’s parents divorced when she was an infant, and she only began to have a relationship with John three years before his death. According to The New York Times, her dad reached out after finding out he had a degenerative bone disease.
John pled guilty to rape charges in 1994, and had another sexual assault case pending at the time of his death. Sloane was unaware of this side of her father, and her mother, Sybil Smith, wanted her to know the good parts of her dad.
“I wanted her to have pride in him,” Sybil explained to The New York Times. “I’m telling you, John was a very good man with addiction issues that were never addressed early on…She said, ‘Mom, why didn’t you tell me this?’ It’s very sad, 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.”
John played running back for the New England Patriots, winning Rookie of the Year honors and was named to the Pro Bowl.
“Every part of his body had a muscle,” Odessa Turner, a Northwestern State teammate, explained to Sports on Earth. “When I first saw him, I thought he was a linebacker. He was that ripped up. The boy was something. When somebody had to tackle him, somebody was in trouble. He ran with such anger and force, like somebody was trying to take his last drink of water.”
His athletic feats would later be overshadowed by multiple accusations of abuse. Sports on Earth detailed the alleged incident that occurred months before his deadly crash.
The second time he was arrested on a rape charge was May of 2009, four months before his crash. The victim was 51 at the time and told investigators she suffered from a spinal condition. Her claim: Stephens wanted to show her some rental property he owned, but instead took her to an oil well site and forced her to have intercourse. Then he took her to a house, but before entering, another rape took place. Then he drove her to a nearby convenience store, gave her $50 and told her to keep quiet.
Sloane was just 16 at the time of her father’s death, and was competing in the U.S. Open junior tournament at the time of the tragedy.
“I was sitting right in front of the transportation tent, and my sister called me and was, like, ‘Dad died last night in a car accident,’ ” Sloane recalled to Sports Illustrated. “I was hysterical.”
Sports Illustrated described the process Sloane went through to grieve her father’s death as well learn more about him.
Her parents divorced when she was an infant; Sloane didn’t meet John until she was 13. But they then spoke often by phone and grew close; she was 16 and preparing to play in the U.S. Open junior tournament when she got the news. Hungry for information, Sloane hit the Internet and discovered that her father had pleaded guilty to rape in 1994—and was facing another sexual assault charge when, at 43, he lost control of his truck and hit a tree near Shreveport, La. She attended his funeral and flew back the next day. After winning her second-round match in three sets, she lost and went home.
Years later, Sloane would go on to win the 2017 U.S. Open, the site of one of her greatest tragedies. She spoke about how redemptive the win was for her with all that had happened in 2009.
“And I didn’t think I would ever be able to regroup here, at this place, because it was just filled with so many emotions—and not good ones,” Sloane explained to Sports Illustrated. “If someone told me when my dad died that I would end up winning the U.S. Open years later, I would’ve been, like, You’re crazy. It is crazy. But I’ve had so many great moments here, and so many sad moments here, that winning, here, makes it even more special.”