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ESPN 300 defensive end Tyreke Smith sees statement T-shirt fuel conversation

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Nike rolls out its newest and best apparel for some of the top high school football prospects at an annual event called The Opening. As the gear makes its way around and shirts and shoes are passed to the high schoolers, Tyreke Smith is hoping his shirt draws the most attention.

Smith, an ESPN 300 defensive end from the Cleveland area, first wore a homemade T-shirt that reads “I hope I don't get killed for being black today” on June 17 at a camp on Ohio State’s campus. He brought the shirt with him to The Opening hoping he can continue to push his message forward and keep drawing attention to the cause.

“Our parents are always talking about how you have to watch your back and that life is not promised,” Smith said. “I live in Cleveland and the murder rates are high. It’s not just about cops killing blacks, either, it’s black-on-black crime. You never know when you step out of the house, and you don’t know if you’ll come back.”

Smith and his brother, Malik Smith, who's headed to play basketball at Bryant University in Rhode Island, decided to make the shirt this spring. The two knew Tyreke had a bigger platform as a highly sought-after football recruit -- he holds offers from powerhouses in the major conferences -- and decided he should wear it at Ohio State’s camp.

In an environment where the players on the field are clad in popular sports brands and the most shocking aspect is usually the color of the shirt, Smith stood out with the statement about the color of his skin.

His plan worked and the message spread.

Feedback started to roll in through social media and various media reports about the shirt. The high school senior was overwhelmed with the response and felt the idea was a success.

“We have had a lot of positive responses,” Smith said. “There have been some negative, but we knew there would be that. We knew not everybody would understand the shirt because it’s a pretty harsh shirt, but if they read why we wore it, it’s not just a racial shirt.

“It’s more than that, and I want them to see my point of view on it and then respond to it.”

Since the responses were frequent, Smith and his family decided to continue pushing the message forward. The family is now selling similar T-shirts with the same message on a website in the hopes of using the proceeds to start a scholarship fund for a local high school student.

The family received more than 50 orders in the first 24 hours of online business and is working on other messages of positivity and encouragement for new T-shirts.

Smith knew the shirt would spark conversation, but he didn’t know to what extent. He says he hopes the process continues and can help create a safer society.

“I just want people to start addressing the issues,” he said. “People are going to remain blind to it if you don’t talk about it, and you can’t do that.”