SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Yesterday, wide receiver Torrey Smith, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Adams were among a handful of players across the NFL who on Wednesday helped the Players Coalition launch their latest social justice campaign.
Smith, Munnerlyn and Adams wore shirts under their pads that read: "Nearly 5,000 kids are in adult prisons and jails", accompanied by a #schoolsnotprisons hashtag.
On Thursday, Smith discussed the shirts at length and shared his thoughts on other social justice issues. Below are his full comments.
On the story behind the "Schools Not Prisons" t-shirt he wore for yesterday's practice: "At the Players Coalition, it's a group of guys. The group was founded by Anquan [Boldin] and Malcom Jenkins to figure out how we could go from protesting to actually doing work in the community. It's been going on for, it's been about a year or two now. We're really growing as an entity and trying to find out different ways to get the message across without people trying to tie the anthem into it, or protesting, or whatever it may be."
On the t-shirts themselves: "Yesterday's message was about "Schools Not Prisons." Obviously, we live in a society right now where were building a lot of jails, but a lot of schools aren't getting the funds that they need or the resources that they need. They kind of go hand in hand. You got kids who aren't educated. Don't have access to probably an education. They tend to get in more trouble or not have the resources that they need to deal with their issues. Whether it's anger issues or their family issues at home, which leads them to them making decisions, whatever it may be. For me, I've seen it first hand in Baltimore with the way a lot of those public schools are. And the lack of resources that they have in those schools, and knowing that they're actually building a brand new jail when some of these kids have environments where the people who work there don't even send their kids there. I think that says a lot. I think it's a simple shirt that means a lot, especially to a lot of the teachers out here. My wife was a teacher, so I know the hard work and sacrifice that she put in for her kids. You have teachers who aren't happy with their environments. Teachers are also some of the most underpaid people in the world. I think it says a lot about them as well. When you give them the support they need, in addition to the things that we can do on our own at home, I think that will be what's best for us in the future."
On feeling as if the Players Coalition is not being heard: "It's very frustrating. I mean when you have people who try to paint Colin Kaepernick as a villain or Eric Reid as a villain when those are two of the best men that I've known and met over my lifetime. I think it's very easy for people to get their emotions involved and forget about the reason why guys are protesting because of the method of protesting. You got guys, I know Eric Reid comes from a military family. I haven't even protested and I've had full on debates with people who are yelling at me or tweeting me about taking a knee and I didn't even do it. So that goes to tell you what people know and what they don't know. They're just mad and don't even know why. You know what I mean? So for me, I think it's just about continuing to do the right thing. Continuing to press forward because it's not really about continuing to protest. The message is out there. We need to figure out ways to really go about creating change. I think that's the process that we're on right now."
On the t-shirt being one of many things the player's coalition has planned: "Absolutely. Plenty of things, not just t-shirts to spread awareness, which eventually they'll be ready to sell for profit for the charities. For us, we just want to continue to focus on work. You see guys from different teams all around the league, each and every team. Guys on their off days are doing work, but people don't hear about that. But you hear about a guy if he gets a DUI, or he goes out and he does something stupid, you know what I mean? I think that's easy to make the headlines, but guys have been doing work in the community for a long time, but now I think its more of a concentrated effort because guys realize the full potential and power that you have as players and the influence that you have to really benefit your community."
On the "Schools Not Prisons" shirt being inspired by Malcom Jenkins' "You're not listening" sign: "I think it's a collective effort. Like I said, its easy when you talk about the protest during the anthem, it tends to get an emotional reaction out of people, to whereas you don't listen to what's going on. When you do that with a t-shirt, we didn't do anything, went out to practice, y'all saw it, we posted about it and now people are talking about a particular subject. It just had a fact. It wasn't made up, it's not something that we just pulled out of nowhere. These are real issues that people deal with and battle with each and every day. I think it was brilliant, and I think more so than anything, we want to try and continue to get the message across the right way without offending people and having them turn the message. We are really trying to control the narrative."
On why he's involved in the social justice efforts: "Why me? For me, everything that we fight for, I've been an individual that's lived it or knows someone who has. When you talk about the issues of the criminal justice system, I grew up in a family where a lot of my family members are convicted felons. But I also grew up in a family where I've had lawyers checking into things now that I'm an adult who's able to make a decent amount of money to know that they don't understand why they were charged with this particular crime or why it was at that level. So I've recognized since I was a kid that there are different issues depending on where you're from, the color of your skin or how much money you made. And that's not the way it should be if we really want equality, specifically in the criminal justice system, when it comes to police brutality. Everyone sees me, they think I'm a pretty clean cut guy. I don't get in trouble, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I might have gotten a speeding ticket here or there, but I don't really do anything crazy. But I've had guns drawn on me on three different occasions from police officers. So I understand what it's like to be profiled. I've been searched on the side of the road, literally when I was packing to go to Maryland, I've been searched. My car has been searched because I got pulled over for an inspection sticker that I had literally just failed, but I was going to buy windshield wipers from Advanced Auto Parts. I got pulled over on the way, and they told me that because of my inspection sticker failed, which in Virginia you had like 15 days or whatever to drive with it, mine literally was five minutes ago, they figured out a way to search my car. I was 18 years old, I didn't know what to say, I'm just like "alright, whatever." It's different things like that where I know where you're being profiled. If you know 18-year-old me, I had my little dread locks, my little tank top and basketball shorts, like I walk around in pretty much every day. But I know what it's like to be profiled, and I know what it's like to be discriminated against. So for me, it's important to speak out against that, and it's not always a race issue, but that's a major piece of it. So for me to sit here and remain silent and not speak up on things that I know are wrong, when I know it affects me, or in a lot of ways, people are like "hey it doesn't affect you because of your situation," well, I've been in that situation. Nothing has changed for my family members, my cousins or the people from where I'm from. I want to figure out ways to help them, spread light to a particular situation, whatever it may be, and figure out what we can do best as citizens to make America great for everyone."
On Torrey being a present voice in the receivers' room: "Yeah, I think, I've kinda always just been a guy that just kinda led by example, but being in this room, I am the older guy again, that's the way it's been for probably the last four years now since I've been in the league. I've been blessed to play with great players like Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, you know these are my mentors. So for me I can share with the other guys you know, Funchess, Byrd, DJ, whoever it may be, not only my own personal experiences, my success and my failures, but I can share with them what I've learned from watching those guys. It's my right to do that. I feel like I have to do it, because those guys were great to me when I was a younger player trying to find my way, and it's only right to do it. So when you're here and you have a guy like Funchess who has all the potential in the world, to try to help him with some little things or try to show him the right way to do certain things. I think it goes a long way."
On having the opportunity to speak with David Tepper about current issues: "Yes I did, now that he's actually the owner. I couldn't talk to him beforehand I guess cause of the rules or what not, but one thing I've learned about him, that I have a lot of respect for him about is that he genuinely cares. And what he doesn't know, he's willing to learn. I think one added benefit to him is that he's from a community that he's seen a lot of things that guys are talking about so to him it's not like this, like he grew up in a world completely different. He's self-made. He wasn't born a billionaire, he earned it, you know? So, he understands what it's like based on where he went to school and how that environment was, how it was for his friends and his peers so when he hears things, he's not surprised by it or he's seen it his self and that goes a long way when you're talking to someone. That's no disrespect to any other owners, but sometimes it's harder to relate if you haven't seen something, you're only going by what someone tells you. You think "hey, why don't you go out here and work hard and you'll be successful?" Well, it's not that simple. You have good people working their tails off, but everyone's starting a race from a different line. So I think it goes a long way with him and that's something that he's been doing. If you guys have followed him, he's been in the community and New Jersey where he's from long before he was the owner here and I know he's going to continue to do great things in Charlotte, not just because he has the ability to financially, but I truly believe he's genuinely cares about them."