Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith spent several hours today at Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle School where he dedicated a literary oasis for its students.
Smith, whose foundation created the room in partnership with Scholastic Book Fairs, spoke about the importance of education, celebrated honor roll members and then read to a select group of first to third graders after helping to cut the ceremonial ribbon for "Torrey's Reading Oasis."
The event was a nice deviation for the Ravens after the negative attention on the team following the recent arrests of running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Deonte Thompson.
Rice and his fiancée, Janay Palmer, were arrested on Feb 15 and charged with simple assault following a physical altercation at an Atlantic City casino. Thompson was arrested last Friday in Gainesville, Fla. and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
"I don't think it really messes it up at all," Smith said when asked about how the two arrests affect the team's reputation. "Every team has instances and there are guys that have still been positive on our team regardless. Our team is out there in the community. I'd put them up there with the best of them. I'm not going to disrespect any other team. There are other teams that do great things in their cities. But each and every guy on our team is active in the community."
Later, Smith, who is preparing for his fourth NFL season, was asked specifically about Rice. Smith and his wife, Chanel, are extremely tight with Rice and his fiancée, and they have spoken to them since their arrests.
"It's definitely a situation that it's nothing to be proud of for us or for him," Smith said. "He knows that. But Janay and Ray are great friends of ours. They're focused on trying to fix it and make things right and we're going to support them like we have in the past.
"Who are we to judge them? We don't know what happened and we don't know what they're building on. I've talked to him and they are in a great space and trying to continue to grow from it. The fact that they are going on, moving on, trying to grow from it, we're going to support them more than ever because a lot of people are going to turn their backs on them."
After just three seasons, Smith has emerged as a team spokesman and one of the faces of the franchise. Like Rice, he's consistently out in the community, backing a number of causes.
"That's what the offseason is all about," Smith said. "We have free time so we need to use that time to get into the schools, get into our community. I live here, too. It's special to be here."
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"Torrey's Reading Oasis" was created as part of charitable programming of his foundation, which aims to better the lives of Baltimore area youth by providing educational support, opportunities and resources. This project's focus is to improve literacy in area schools.
The 370 students at the school will now have access to age-appropriate books and a comfortable place to read. The room is painted in the Ravens' colors and includes several images of Smith on the wall, along with a big, green carpet in the likeness of a football field with Smith's No.82 on it.
"Just looking at it, it motives me to want to go over there [and sit] Indian style and read a book," Smith told the students.
Smith, who graduated from the University of Maryland before he was drafted by the Ravens in the second round of the 2011 draft, also made sure to deliver an important message to students.
"It's not possible to be where I'm standing right now without school," he said, while standing in front of the auditorium. "Education is the most important thing you can have. You guys have to understand just how important this is, just not now but for your future."
The Torrey Smith Foundation also announced details for its annual charity basketball game. The "Battle of the Beltway" will pit Smith's Ravens against Ryan Kerrigan's Washington Redskins. The game will take place on March 29 at the Comcast Center in College Park.
Admission is $15 in advance and $20 the week of the game and all proceeds will benefit the Torrey Smith Foundation and the Ryan Kerrigan Blitz for the Better Foundation. Tickets are available at www.torreysmith.org.