The effects of an NFL lockout is far-reaching, and former Syracuse standout Taj Smith’s story proves that. Details of Smith’s background are astounding and highlighted in a fantastic piece by Greg Bishop in the New York Times today. Smith’s story isn’t happy-go-lucky. It doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It is not a story of choosing the right path in the face of adversity. It is simply a story of survival.
Local Syracuse restaurants, businesses and media will be hurt by a lockout. It will effect grocery stores. The city of Cortland could lose somewhere between $5-$10 million dollars if Jets training camp doesn’t roll through town in August. The impact goes far beyond the $9 billion pie within the league, but at its core it’s still about the NFLPA and owners.
The Fizz has already discussed how it effects Syracuse rookies, both drafted like Delone Carter and undrafted like Bartholomew, Smith and Long. No contracts, no checks, and no chance. But what about the lower tier players on a roster, and trying to stay there – like Taj?
“Bernadine Smith raised eight children here, five boys and three girls, 13 years separating the oldest from the youngest. Her boys were inseparable, and she tried to keep them together, keep them home, with board games and cooking lessons and movie nights. “If I could have kept my kids in a bubble,” she said, “I would have.”
Taj’s two older brothers are both dead. One burned to death in an unsolved murder seven years ago. The other shot himself in ’09 as police burst into his hotel room. Smith grew up on the brutal streets of Newark and made it out after 25-30 fights in high school, including one in which he was arrested and expelled from school. All of his friends were kicked out, and Smith was the only one allowed back. He made the most of it, becoming an “A” student his senior year and recruited to play football at a junior college in Bakersfield, CA. He spent a year at SU before turning pro and latching on with the Colts. Things haven’t been perfect for Taj though. He was also nailed for DUI during his first season with Indy.
People make money in all different ways. For many a job is just a job – something to pay the bills. For others it’s a career – a reason to be passionate and invested for the long haul. For someone like Taj, it’s both. It’s how he plans to make money to use the rest of his life, and his window for doing so is incredibly small. Smith spent three years bouncing around unsigned before finally breaking through with the Colts. Just landing on an NFL roster is an accomplishment for Taj.
Now that he has finally broken through, he still has to fight. As one of the final players on the Colts active roster, there’s no guarantees for the final two years of his three-year contract.
At 27, his advantage over others is his experience. He’s been around the coaches. He’s familiar with the organization and can use this in a mini-camp or OTA to shine beyond the guy coming to take his spot. With a lockout, that advantage is largely gone.
Instead of spending his time in Indy with fellow ‘Cuse grad Dwight Freeney and the rest of the defense, Smith is back in Newark – walking those same dangerous streets where he was once held up at gunpoint.
The lockout gives players with tough backgrounds like Taj free time to roam back there. Smith has turned the corner, but is bound to run into a few old friends who still live on the block. Football can often keep these guys busy and out of trouble.
Incidents like Malcolm Cater attemp to leave his checkered past behind has created a debate for SU fans: is the risk is worth the reward? Smith was recruited by Groobers, but would he have even been welcomed on the Hill with Doug Marrone in charge? Smith admits in the article he played sports year-round in high school to stay out of trouble. Syracuse has recently dealt with issues off the field, and they’ve mostly come when the team hasn’t been in season. Idle hands…
Ray Lewis’ comments connecting crime and the NFL lockout were criticized as off base. But that debate buried a more intriguing and conventional point he made earlier. Lewis said both parties need to put aside pride, because all the talk centers around who’s going to win? In reality, the only way for anyone – especially a guy like Taj Smith – to win, is for there to be football. Too bad Roger Goddell and Demaurice Smith don’t realize this.
Posted: Craig Hoffman