Ravens Q&A: Torrey Smith on George Floyd protests, parenthood and how athletes can use their platform

When Torrey Smith announced his retirement from football in September, he said he would spend the next phase of his life in Baltimore, a place where “my heart is, and never left."

His love for the area remains obvious, even six years after he last caught a pass as a Ravens wide receiver. As the Virginia native and former Maryland football star raises his three children — sons T.J. and Kameron and daughter Kori — with his wife, Chanel, he’s enjoying the perks of his free time. He’s visited Orioles and Terps games. He’s started a podcast, “Trending Thoughts with Torrey Smith.” And he’s working with Baltimore officials to help expand community programming.


When protesters in Baltimore marched downtown Monday night to rally against police brutality and racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Smith joined them. He has long been outspoken about social justice issues, and he continues to give back through his foundation.

On Wednesday, just hours after prosecutors charged three more Minneapolis police officers in the death of Floyd and filed a new, tougher charge against the officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck, Smith spoke to The Baltimore Sun about the national unrest, the lessons he hopes to impart to his children and how athletes can use their platforms, among other topics. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


I’m sure you’ve been thinking a lot about what’s going on in our country the past week. Where does this kind of moment find you? How have you been able to process everything that’s going on?

To me, it’s been a very emotional time, but it’s something that’s not new, so it’s almost expected. It’s a part of life at this point in America as a black man. The same things have been happening long before I was born, and they continue to happen now. It’s just that phones exist. Now, I just try to figure out what I can do to help, which has consistently been what I’ve tried to do my entire adulthood. But it’s for sure more of a sense of urgency now.

Have you had any uncomfortable conversations with friends, family or people who hadn’t really confronted this until this past week?

Anyone that’s around me is going to have this conversation. I’m not uncomfortable with the conversation, because it’s my reality. I feel like it’s an uncomfortable conversation for people who aren’t sure what to know or to think. But if you talk to any black person in this country, they’re going to be comfortable with it because we’ve already had this conversation growing up.

We all have different conversations with our kids. I talk about it in my podcast: “the talk.” The talk that your parents have with you about how to engage and act with police officers or people in power because of what has historically happened to black and brown people.

My son’s a little too young for that talk [T.J. is 6, and Kameron turns 4 later this month], but he’s for sure aware of who he is as an individual, and you don’t teach them so that they’re afraid. You teach them so that they’re prepared. My hope and dream is that one day, he isn’t going to have to have that conversation with his child, but that’s the reality of it for a black child or parent in America.

How would your describe your anticipation for having that talk with T.J.? It’s something that I imagine you accept as required at this point.

Yeah, it’s a part of raising your child. You teach your child how to ride a bike. You teach your child how to present themselves and shake a hand. And you teach your child how to interact with police officers, because there will be a time when he comes in contact with police officers and he needs to do everything that he can to make sure that he isn’t perceived as a threat.

And my thing, knowing now, even more so than I did when I was a child, is that if something goes wrong, I can argue about that. There’s a legal route. So if something happens ... and something goes wrong and you know you’ve been treated unfairly, I can help you. But if you make a false move or you do something and it makes you a threat and you get hurt, I can’t bring you back.

So that’s my approach as a parent, just in terms of educating them and teaching them to keep calm, because I’ve been in those situations. I’ve had guns drawn on me three or four times — as early as middle school. And the last time was when I was on break at home from college. ...

So it happened to me and it can happen to someone. It happened to me, and I’ve given those experiences [to T.J.]. And again, it’s not to scare him. It’s just to let him know that it can happen.

Do you think that the biggest progress that we can make, beyond finding justice for people like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, is educating people about the realities that black people face on a daily basis?


I think it’s a little bit of everything. I think you need to become more aware of simply what’s going around you, because it is happening. I can’t tell you how often I see and how much it disturbs me when you see a person who dies — and it can be someone like George Floyd — and the first question someone asks is, “Well, I wonder what he did?” Like, that’s the most disrespectful comment you can give, because you’re saying that man deserved to die for something that he was clearly under control for.

I don’t care if he robbed a bank. We’ve seen mass shooters get Burger King and come home. So it doesn’t matter what you did. You’re still a human. And it’s about the perception of people. It’s not a victim mentality, but simply being aware, because a lot of these things are systemic. And it’s been fit that way, so it’s important for people to know and literally see, in concrete places, how certain things were built and figure out how we can help change it. And voting is a major key to that.

So where do you hope we are a year from now?

A year from now, I hope we’re more educated. There’s going to be another George Floyd situation. There’s going to be another Michael Brown situation. There’s going to be another Freddie Gray situation. They’re still going to continue to happen. But will that person be charged? And will justice be served? That’s honestly the biggest question, because people get charged all the time and they get off.


If I go and I shoot someone, I’m going to jail. If an officer does it, it’s not the case all the time. And there are protections for that, which is something that, again, when you educate yourself, you learn about certain things and certain protections that officers have, where sometimes they will not even be charged in the first place.

You wonder why a person’s on paid leave. Well, the way their union is set up, they have those opportunities — the way it’s built to have their due process there before they can get fired. This officer in Minnesota [Derek Chauvin] was charged right away because they fired him, so therefore he didn’t have immunity. He wasn’t protected.

So it’s important for people to learn how these things work, and maybe you’ll take it down and take down the terms of some of those protections. Because I tell you what: I know some damn good officers out here, officers that I know step up when they’re needed and officers that I feel like the George Floyd situation wouldn’t have happened with them there.

At the same time, there’s a culture that exists within police officers and their brotherhood and their family, where they protect each other. And to be fair, everyone does that. Teammates protect themselves. Families protect each other. These police officers are no different in that aspect. But where they’re different is in their responsibility and the oath and pledge that they took. And they have to be held accountable. They have to be held up to that standard. And they have to be held accountable for their actions. And they have to live up to that standard. And so that’s something that we aren’t seeing enough of.

In addition to everything that you accomplished on the field, you made a name for yourself with your courage in speaking truth to power and attaching your name to certain causes. What do you think is the responsibility of the modern-day athlete, especially with social media giving them so much more of a platform than they had 10, 15, 20 years ago?

To whom much is given, much is required. Or to whom much is given, much is expected. Whichever way you want to read it, it’s that way for all athletes. It’s that way for everyone. It’s that way for officers in the position. And as athletes, you have a voice.

I tell people all the time: “I play ball. When I had my helmet on, I was covered up. But when I took my pads off and I walked away from that field, I was still a black man in America.” There are things that impact people, and I’m not immune from it just because I’ve played in the NFL. So it’s important to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless, because as an athlete, you have that voice, or you have that platform, and people may listen to you.

That’s why I don’t mind sharing my stories, which are traumatizing in a way — so people can learn from them. Because when people see me, they see the way I try to live and they see the way I am with my family and the way I am in the community, and they see me as a person. .... When I tell you I’ve had guns drawn on me three or four times, then all of a sudden, it changes some people’s perspective. Like, “Well, I wouldn’t expect that out of you.”

So it’s important for people to share their experiences, because if you talk to people, you realize, more often than not, everyone has had some type of experience with it. I’m telling you this and I hope it’s not hitting you like I believe all officers are bad, because they aren’t. There are a lot of great officers and there a lot of great people in this community, but we need to make sure that the bad apples, as people like to label them, it’s not happening consistently. That they aren’t in the force. That they are held up to a standard and a code and a pledge they all took.

How does it feel when the white people in your life ask you what they can do?

It means a lot, because it's never been asked. Literally, never been asked. So this does feel different than Freddie Gray, than Michael Brown, than Trayvon Martin. You can keep on going down the line, down the list. So it does feel different.

And to have those conversations with people that you love and care about, for them to be honest, I’ve learned over the past nine years, since I came to the NFL, that when you’re going to events and they’re talking about certain things or challenges that are in the community, oftentimes, the people who are there talking about it are the people who are impacted by it and wanted to see a change. It means the world right now to know you have the eyes and ears of people who want to help where these things that are happening don’t directly affect them.

And even bigger than that, people are acknowledging that there’s an issue, which is something that hasn’t consistently happened. So I’m glad that it’s happening and I want to make sure that I’m able to give them tools and let them know what they can do, because there’s nothing worse than someone trying to tell you how can they help, and then you have no answers for them, which is something that a lot of people may feel right now, because there’s a lot of emotion.

But to me, I think the answer’s always simple: Just step up. That looks different for everyone. When you see those conversations that are had at work, when you see those conversations that are had in your family, these are real things that are happening. It’s not just behind closed doors anymore. We have camera phones. They get caught all the time. But you have that opportunity to call it out and to shut it down there.

Or if someone’s telling you they feel a certain way, believe them. Don’t just dismiss their feelings. And those are things you can do simply just by being a good person in any situation. So if we get the legislative things and jump on board with trying to change some of the systemic things, that’s a big deal. That’s a major deal. But we can start with simply just being better people and more compassionate people.

I listened to your podcast episode with Anquan Boldin from last month. It was a real treat to listen to, especially the part about the helmet situation. What do listeners have to look forward to? I imagine this movement is something that you’re especially interested in.

With me, you’re going to hear everything. Anything and everything. It could be Baltimore-related. It could be real life and personal to me. It could be politics. It could be ball. It could be whatever. ...


Before, I felt like I didn’t want to keep driving it down everyone’s throat, the things that you have to do and continue to talk about race. But it’s my reality. So there will be times where I’m talking about heavy race topics, and this is it.

Literally, the next one I think I’m going to put out is going to be me sharing my actual stories. I told you I’ve had guns drawn on me, but I didn’t tell you on how it happened. And I think sometimes if people can hear those stories, then it hits them a little differently. Or it’s a different experience if you put yourself in those shoes.

Just having people [on the podcast] that can educate [listeners], because I don’t have all the answers. I really don’t. And I don’t act like I do, and I never expect to have all the answers. But I’m just trying to play my part and I’ll continue to make sure that I have people to come on so that we can talk about things with that we can all relate to. Because we all are more similar than we are different.

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