SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Torrey Smith does not consider himself a social activist. The San Francisco 49ers receiver is just that rare professional athlete who is not afraid to speak his mind to the masses by talking about social issues on social media.
Smith is involved even as much larger names in the sports realm have bypassed the opportunity.
“Things that go on in our country affect us all equally,” Smith said this week. “I think sometimes that gets lost in the fact that you’re a professional athlete or that people see you on TV and I think I’m just being a citizen.”
Smith’s Twitter timeline is filled not only with his observations on the latest games, former teammates and his thoughts on the most recent 49ers outing, but also his take on the national headlines.
Last summer, after signing the largest free-agent contract ever offered by 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, a deal worth $40 million over five years with $22 million guaranteed, Smith weighed in on the Confederate flag in South Carolina, the Baltimore riots and same-sex marriage.
And no, he is not afraid of offending fans and/or harming potential endorsements because, as he said, he says the same thing on social media as he does to his wife at home and in the San Francisco locker room.
“You’re limiting yourself,” he said of staying quiet. “You’re not being a real you.”
And, of course, he catches heat from fans on his social media channels. Some of his 343,000 Twitter followers tell him to pipe down and play ball, as if he has no right to espouse his views. Sadly, some even bring the name of his younger brother, Tevin Chris Jones, into the fray. He died in a motorcycle accident in 2012.
“That happens every couple of weeks,” Smith said. “My brother, I lost a family member, right? There’s no pity on that. A lot of people lose family members each and every day.
“If I said something so simple that causes you to go to that point, I just think it shows how far, as mankind, we have to go in terms of just respecting each other.”
This past week, Smith entertained conversations about Islam in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, talked about presidential candidate Ben Carson's rap song and, yes, tweeted at Donald Trump.
It’s all in a day’s tweets for Smith, whose natural curiosity got him going on the Internet. He moved to the Bay Area this past summer after living his entire life in a 100-mile stretch of I-95. He grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, playing college ball at Maryland and spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens.
Smith and his wife, Chanel, both have completed the first year of the MBA program at the University of Miami and continue to take online classes during the season.
Yes, Smith mentioned that on Twitter. And, of course, a fan or two thought he should be concentrating on football, rather than school, what with his big-money contract and having just 18 catches for 386 yards and two touchdowns for the last-place 49ers, who are 3-6 heading into this weekend’s game at the 4-5 Seattle Seahawks.
Social media has become a social experiment of sorts for the 26-year-old Smith, who has strong opinions on the judicial and legal systems as well as race relations.
“A convicted felon, your life’s an uphill battle for you,” he said. “I’ve seen first-hand how it affects people. ... I have so many convicted felons in my family that you see someone, they could be educated, they could have a great job, they could be clean for 20 years, but that way is over for them. They’ll never get the same kind of job as someone who has the exact same resume but has never gotten in trouble.
“Those kinds of things are important to talk about because a teenager might not understand that one bad mistake could affect them all their life.”
And race relations?
“That’s a major social issue,” he said. “Racism is a major problem and something that needs to be talked about in this country. When things like the Baltimore riots happen, it brings it to the forefront, which a lot of people are scared of.”
Then why is Smith, the eldest of seven children raised by a single mother, not afraid of touching that third rail of social issues?
“Because I’m a black male and I know how it is,” he said. “I mean, that’s any issue, really. I just feel you have to be real about the situation; you can’t hide behind certain things. A problem is a problem and I feel the best way to address any problem is to acknowledge it.”
Even at the risk of backlash from those taking a sip from the cup of courage that come with anonymity on the Internet.
“I respond to them because you’re able to see how ignorant some folks are and some people wouldn’t see that, and if anything, it just sparks another kind of conversation. And I get something out of it just listening to what other folks say,” Smith said. “You don’t have to agree. But it opens up my eyes to another way of looking at it.
“People are going to say things that are stupid all the time. I understand being in this position, that a lot comes with it. Required and expected. I still live my life in a way that I feel is very beneficial to my family and try to set an example -- no matter what their race is, their sexual orientation, their religion or whatever, you respect people for who they are, you can’t just put labels on people.”
It’s all a conversation, he insisted, even if the words are typed and not spoken.
Smith, who he spent part of the 2013 offseason interning for U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, does not see politics in his future.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “My views are more liberal, but a lot of people think, because of my financial standing, I’m more conservative. But I know where I come from and I know what helped me get there.”
An example of Smith’s recent Twitter timeline:
I have a ?...Why don't we call the KKK "radical Christian terrorist" a lot of them believe in Christ...I want to hear what y'all think— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) November 15, 2015
In MY OPINION folks talk about "radical Islamic terrorist" in a way that offends every Muslim that isn't a terrorist...but that's just me— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) November 15, 2015
I wouldn't vote for a person who did this bs..you can talk to me straight and I'll understand it..no need to fake it https://t.co/am5LSHnBJO— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) November 6, 2015
FALSE https://t.co/vm4AqDTcoD— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) November 15, 2015
You are not paid to tweet how you feel about what a player tweets ☕️🐸 https://t.co/nCAz0i8bh0— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) November 18, 2015