Taj Smith needs football and an alternative

May, 24, 2011
5/24/11
12:02
PM ET
Taj Smith is a great example of the kind of fringe NFL player who needs a functioning league and the money it can bring him.

Buying 70 pairs of sneakers was not a wise way to use some of what he’s already made. He's saved little as he also took care of his family and paid rent.

[+] EnlargeTaj Smith
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTaj Smith played in five games last season for the Colts.
Greg Bishop paints a telling portrait of the receiver, who has spent significant time on the Colts’ practice squad and has played in five games.
Smith’s agent, Wes Bridges, said Smith is in the second year of a three-year contract, little of which is guaranteed. His window of opportunity in professional football, which opened later than most, is small to begin with, so every paycheck, every workout bonus matters for his family and his future.

But of course Smith now resides in the limbo created by the N.F.L. lockout, hopeful but uncertain. No games. No organized practices. No paychecks. Nothing to be done that could secure his future in the game.

Back in Newark, as the sport’s labor dispute moves slowly through the federal court system, Smith has driven through the familiar, rough streets of his childhood, reacquainting himself with all that he wants to leave behind, including the building where he was robbed at gunpoint and the alley where his friend was killed. …

He admits to playing his own part in perpetuating the dead-end pathology of violence begetting violence. He says he is not looking for sympathy. Just work.

I didn’t know his background. I do remember being impressed by Smith in back-to-back training camps and thinking he could pan out into something.

Read the piece and you’ll know a lot more about why he needs the chance. I hope he and others like him are also mapping an alternative course.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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