Carolina Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith is many things besides a nine-year NFL veteran. He’s a father of three young children, a gun owner, and a provocative voice on Twitter where he wades into social issues far outside of football.
I interviewed Smith one-on-one Sunday once he finished playing with his kids, who all came on the field for a post-practice hug.
The following Q&A is lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: Your 2018 season was cut short due to injury. What has training camp been like for you?
A: It’s been a long time coming — to get back out and kind of have my health (back). I’m feeling really good.
Q: What happened last year in terms of your health? (Smith was a starter with two TDs and 16 receptions in the first six games of 2018. Then he got hurt, missed five games entirely, played sparingly in the others and had only one more reception in the last 10 games).
A: My health was perfect until I fell vs. the Eagles. After the game, I couldn’t bend my knee. I knew something wasn’t right. I ended up getting it fixed. It took some time. A whole lot of time, honestly. ... I had in-season surgery.
Q: Do you have your speed back now?
A: Absolutely. It’s just about building it the right way, not trying to rush everything. But yeah. ... It definitely feels good, knowing where I was a couple of months ago.
Q: There was a report from ESPN a few months ago that you took a substantial pay cut (the report had Smith’s salary being cut from $5 million to $2 million with a potential $1 million in additional bonuses for 2019). Why did you do that?
A: Honestly, when there’s questions about your health — I didn’t want to be put in the position where I was kind of a burden. It was really a good move for both sides…. If I was all the way healthy, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But it was kind of protecting me and helping the team at the same time.
Q: Why do you talk about so many non-football subjects on Twitter?
A: I’ve never been one to shy away from social issues, literally since before anyone knew who I was, back in middle school or high school.
I’ve always been that way. You can ask my college professors. I had no problem asking questions, debating things. I wasn’t the normal athlete in terms of just sitting there. I’m curious as to why — and more importantly, being in this position, how I can help.
Q: America has experienced two more mass shootings this weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Why do these shootings happen in the U.S. so often?
A: I think it’s an issue of hate in a lot of cases. I think it’s mental health in a lot of cases. And access.
I’m a gun owner. I support having your right to bear arms … But I’m not opposed to there being more restrictions, maybe even better background checks, making it harder.
There are things we can do to be better but also to protect people and give them the rights to bear arms … The reality is no matter what you do — if you take away everything — there are still people who are going to have access to it. So the biggest thing is trying to make sure it’s done the right way and try to protect as many people as possible.
Q: What kind of guns do you own?
A: I have everything.
Q: An AK-47?
A: Not an AK-47, but I have other high-powered rifles.
Q: Do you hunt?
A: Yes. Deer, hogs, a little bit of everything.
Q: You won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens and also interned under Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose district includes parts of Baltimore.
What did you think about the verbal attacks on both Baltimore and Cummings? (President Donald Trump complained about Cummings and also called the Baltimore district a “rat and rodent infested mess.”)
A: We all know Baltimore has a lot of challenges. I know that firsthand from living there and being heavily involved in the community. But I think it’s also interesting that you take a shot at Mr. Cummings and his jurisdiction. The place where my home is now, it’s one of the best areas in Baltimore, and it’s also in his jurisdiction.
If you feel this way about it, I think it’s more about asking ‘Why?’ What can you do to help? Obviously, it’s offensive to a lot of people who do live there. There are a lot of hardworking citizens that live in that area … I think it’s very disrespectful, and very offensive, to a lot of people.
Q: Let’s go back to football for the last question. You’re a 30-year-old veteran on a team that has two dynamic young receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel and obviously wants to play them both a lot. Do you have any doubt you will make this team?
A: With my health not being a question, I have no doubt that I’ll make it. Now if my health is/was an issue, I would think it would go the other way.
But if I’m healthy, I’m a starter, no question about it.
I don’t have to be a starter obviously, we have two young guys (Moore and Samuel) that I believe are ready to go. And they’re ready to take off … The thing that helps me is I don’t have an ego issue. I’ve been starting my entire career. But I’m fine with playing my role and doing what I have to do to win.
To me, it doesn’t really matter. I want to be here. And I’m going to earn my right to be here.