Torrey Smith – a True Raven and Role Model

So you guys, I wrote a paper on the importance of the connection between character development and physical activity.  It applauds how programs that focus on both structural development and social learning theories combined with a great supporting cast are what transform those individuals into better people, only if they are willing to transform themselves.  I submitted it for class and thought that this may be something my readers may be interested in reading.  Tell me what you think and Ill gladly take the time to read your critiques!  Happy Thursday everyone!

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There is a common misconception regarding sport and social development.  Most people believe that participating in some form of physical activity automatically transforms that individual into a better person.  Parents are guilty of succumbing to this idea.  Unfortunately, there is little evidence that physical activity alone builds character, enhances moral reasoning, and teaches good behavior.  What the general population (especially parents) need to realize that sport and physical education settings do not automatically produce better or worse people.  There is a connection between character development and physical activity.  This connection is not extremely different from that aforementioned misconception addressed earlier.  Programs that focus on both structural development and social learning theories combined with a great supporting cast are what transform those individuals into better people.  Therefore, “there is a lot of optimism that physical activity offers an attractive vehicle for effective moral and social development change in [individuals]” (Ebbeck and Weiss, 1993).  With the increasing number of programs who intertwine character development and a positive social environment, the problems caused by the youth and adolescents in sport consequently decrease.  There is a negative relationship between sport participation and delinquency because these programs enhance positive behaviors, while keeping the youth off the street and away from trouble.  The intrinsic motivating factor of sport is shown by exposing these athletes to potential setbacks, problem solving opportunities, and avenues to carry out their solutions.  “Participation in sports can fill the gap for underserved children by facilitating increased self-esteem, providing an important source of identity, lending social support, and giving individuals positive role models” (Gould and Weinberg, 2011).

Does football save its athletes from the perils of delinquency and gang violence?  No one can go back in time and tell what struggle each and every NFL athlete went through during their upbringing.  A possible answer to that question is “football causes a lot of thinking.  You have to think and react very quickly.  It helps you in life because you have to think things through about everything, pretty much in life and that’s how you have to think of football.  [And] as a human being you have to learn about life.  You are not always going to win and you are always going to have ups and downs in the sport.  You might have a great game and the next game you come back terrible” (Singer, 2008).

It is proven that the perceptions of those intimately close to an athlete regarding the approval of antisocial behavior, whether it be the mother, father, coach, or teammates, is predictor variables for his/her actions.  More importantly, “Sport participation requires cooperation with peers, respect for authority, and obedience following in some rules” (Ebbeck and Stuart, 1995).   Take a look at Number 82 on the Baltimore Ravens.  Torrey Smith is one of the most respected athletes in the National Football League.  He is on pace to surpass his receiving yards from last year.  He currently has 841 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions on the year.  Smith is the number one receiving target of the Baltimore Ravens this year, and if he keeps his this pace up, he will pass the 1000 yard mark.  Many would argue that Smith is in the category of the top five best wide receivers in the league.  Unlike the receivers in that top five category, he has had a much different story than all of them.  “Torrey Smith might be known for his skills on the field, but it is his character off it that makes him truly stand out.  ‘Determination, drive, resilience are all words Smith lives and plays by.  The 22-year-old already feels like a winner – like a survivor’” (Bush-Hager, 2011).

Smith’s wisdom and maturity were forged, at least in part, by his atypical childhood upbringing.  He took on adult responsibilities by the age of seven.  As the oldest of seven siblings, “Smith spent many of his formative years changing diapers, preparing meals, and getting his siblings ready for school,” (Valkenburg, 2012).  Why would a seven year old do all this for his mother who is barely around?  Smith really loves his mother and his siblings so much that he gave up the opportunity to live a typical childhood.  He understood that his mother “financially, did everything, [so he] just stepped up and tried to be a good role model for them.” (Bush-Hager, 2011).  As an outsider looking in, one can understand where he gained this work ethic.  His mother, Monica Jenkins, was a great role model for him in his childhood.  With seven children, Smith’s mother easily could have felt sorry for herself and allowed society to dictate how a single mother of seven would live.  Instead, she worked her tail off and attended night school in order to find a means to possibly increase the money she brought home every night.  Unintentionally, Jenkins ingrained this concept of working hard for everyone else before focusing on her personal needs inter her son’s virtues.  This exemplifies social learning theory in regards to “parents’ [tendencies] to have the primary influence on preadolescent children in issuing rules of punishment and approval of behaviors” (Ebbeck and Stuart, 1995). 

As mentioned earlier, a great supporting cast helps contribute to the structural development of an individual.  Not only did Torrey Smith have his mother and his siblings, he was fortunate to have those affiliated with the football teams he had played for in his life.  Take a moment to further understand his situation.  Society views single parent families as less fortunate, therefore creating a stigma individuals within this category have to live with for the rest of their life.  Imagine living in a home without a father, with a mother who is not around much, and six siblings kicking and screaming, needing help from anyone who willing to give them attention.  Now, compound the previously mentioned scenario with two more added obligations; academics and sport.  Those aforementioned things amass to a very hectic schedule, increasing the risk of delinquency, tendency to join gangs because of the family complex, stress, self-pity, and, possibly, incarceration.  Smith had a different agenda in mind.  Not only did he believe in those people that surrounded him with support and praise, he believed in himself.  Remember, programs that focus on both structural development and social learning theories combined with a great supporting cast are what transform those individuals into better people.  Before that individual can make that transformation, they have to fully commit to this change. 

It has been argued that “college sport enterprise exploits the athletic prowess of [intercollegiate athletes] and ignores their academic and social development.  [On the other side of the spectrum], intercollegiate athletics provides educational and career opportunities to these athletes, particularly from underprivileged backgrounds” (Singer, 2008)   (By no means does this paper or any of the research found to create the paper believe that Smith was financially underprivileged.  The basis that he is “underprivileged” is the fact that he didn’t have a resource like a biological father around who Smith could look to for real-life advice.)  Intercollegiate athletic participation [has] a positive impact on social involvement during college, satisfaction with college, interpersonal and leadership skills, motivation to complete degree, and in the case of African American males in particular, their early occupational status”  (Pascarella and Smart, 1991).  The Wide Receiver coach at Maryland, Lee Hull, used to joke that the football team would go out after a big win, except Smith, who would be in his dorm room, rushing to get work or studying done.  This is very atypical of a rising star in college football.  While he was in college, his mother was sent to jail for felony wounding in 2010, presenting an obstacle for Smith and his siblings.  Who was going to take care of his siblings?  How would he be able to travel to his home in Virginia from the University of Maryland amidst his bus student-athlete schedule?  How would his family be supported financially since their mother is out of commission?  Those questions one can ensure Smith was thinking of when he heard of the news.  Did this encounter with the authority change his conception of his mother, who was a huge role model and a big part of his supporting cast?  We will never know.  There is this saying in sport, “Next Man Up”.  In this case, the next man up to serve as his role model was not his father who did not exist in his life, but instead it was Coach Ralph Friedgen.  The coach served as a character witness for Jenkins and wrote a letter explaining that her son is the best example she could contribute to society” (Bush-Hager, 2011) Friedgen proceeded to say in the interview that “in [his] 41 years of coaching, he has never met a better character than Torrey – an unselfish hard worker.  He’s a testimony to her hard work and destination.” 

Through Smith’s childhood experience, he was gained the virtue of hard work and perseverance from his mother.  His tenure at the University of Maryland further solidified those virtues.  “High identification and feeling of belongingness with a sports team [especially a highly respected program] may result in elevated levels of self-esteem, as well as an increased frequency of feeling positive emotions” (Branscombe and Wann, 1991).  He redshirted his first year (2007) as a Terrapin and was named scout team player of the year.  In his redshirt freshman year (2008), he made his first start on the seventh game of the season.  Against Florida State, he broke the single-season kickoff return yards with 85 yards.  In the game against James Madison University in the 2009 season, he gained 247 all-purpose yards.  I the post-game speech, coach Ralph Friedgen stated, “To be honest with you, I was kind of expecting more out of Torrey. I’ve got a lot of faith in him. I’m not surprised at all about the return yards. But I think if you asked Torrey, he has high expectations for himself, too.”  This exemplifies his support system at Maryland.  When critics praised his outstanding feats in the game against JMU, his coach wanted more because he knew Smith could do more.  There is no better way to show how this program focuses on their players’ structural development combined with a great supporting cast are what transform those individuals into better people, or, in this case, better athletes.  This increasing trend as a Terrapin had a setback that was previously mentioned, his mother was arrested.  A good program will attempt to help athletes cope with setbacks such as these.  Great programs, like Maryland, creates an identification that “acts as a buffer against feelings of depression, alienation, and other negative emotions” (Branscombe and Wann, 1991).  This was proven in Smith’s resiliency to shine on the football field while, also, excelling in the classroom.  He was able to graduate early with a degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice prior to the NFL draft. 

If that is not a perfect example of a program that connects physical activity with character development, here are two more.  In his rookie season, he was highly criticized of dropping balls.  Coming out of the draft, teams knew that catching the football was not his strong suit.  The legendary combination of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, particularly Lewis, addressed the rookie and the obstacles the rest of the season had presented.  During the second game against the rivaled Pittsburg Steelers, in the first quarter, Torrey Smith committed a penalty that wiped out a touchdown pass that would put the Ravens at an advantage.  The lead changed many times during this game and finally, the Ravens were down 16-20 (but would have been up 23-20 if Smith’s penalty did not negate the score) with five minutes left to go.  Finally, the game came down to a 4th-and-one on the Pittsburg 49 yard line.  Joe Flacco dropped back and threw a bomb to Smith in the end zone, where he made a huge catch giving the Ravens the go ahead score.  After the game, Coach John Harbaugh ran to the locker room for the post-game speech, telling the press, “We all have our issues and we all struggle.  So I’m not judging anybody. But to get criticized for overreacting to a win like that? Like you shouldn’t get excited? Look, if you can’t get excited about the success of a friend or someone that you coach or teach, if you can’t do that, what is life even worth? You can’t get excited about anything. I don’t want your life. I was just so thrilled for Torrey.”  Is there a better way to respond to the success of a struggling player than that?  The issue with this could have been a lack in Flacco’s confidence throwing to the rookie, who was scrutinized for dropping the ball.  With the game on the line, Flacco and the whole team trusted that Smith would come down with the ball.  This is why the Ravens are such a great franchise.  From the front office, to the coaching staff and the players, the emphasis is developing players who not only are dependable in the game, but who fit into their well respected persona.  It truly is a family of men in cohesion with each other every Sunday, and sometimes on Monday or Thursday. 

The third, and final, instance to be presented on Smith places a bubble on the death of his younger brother, Tevin, on September 23rd, 2012.  He was killed in a motorcycle accident the day before the New England Patriots game.  No one expected him to play that day.  “Hours before the game, Smith still hadn’t made up his mind about whether he wanted to play. But he did decide he wanted to attend the Ravens’ team chapel, a Bible study that’s held in the team hotel before every game.   When he walked in, the players, a few coaches and team chaplain Rod Hairston stood up and formed a circle. The team spent several minutes in prayer, arms draped around him.  ‘It was just a handful of guys standing there, but it was really powerful,’ said Ravens assistant coach Craig Ver Steeg.  ‘It was a faith-filled family moment. You could just feel Torrey get strength from that. It was an illustration of how a football team sure can be a family.’  There he decided his brother would have wanted him to play” (Valkenburg 2012).  THE Torrey Smith emerged this game, where he caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in an amazing 31-30 win. When he caught his first touchdown, a leaping 25-yard catch, he pointed toward the sky, as if he was pointing up at his little brother, as tears rushed down his eyes. 

As a third year player in the NFL, Smith has gone through more than any player should.  Starting this rocky road with being the caretaker for six siblings at the age of seven, dealing with his mother’s arrest his final year at Maryland, a rookie year scrutinized for problems important to the wide receiver position – receiving, the death of his brother ad having a stellar game to tribute his life, finally being able to raise the Lombardi trophy after winning the Super Bowl was more than deserving.  With a little bit of luck, he was able to be a part of programs that emphasize the connection between character development and physical activity.  Thus, attaining connections that facilitate increased self-esteem, provide an important source of identity, lend social support, and give individuals positive role models.  Remember that physical activity and a great supporting cast builds character, enhances moral reasoning, and teaches good behavior.  The previous statement means nothing if the individual is not willing to make that transformation from a good person to a great person.  A closing statement from Smith himself would only be fitting. 

“Football is one of those games that definitely relates to life in a lot of ways.  Everything can be going good, and just like that, you have a turnover. Things are going south, you’re going the opposite direction. How are you going to recover from it? That’s the beauty in this game. It brings a lot of people together, and you can also learn a lot of life lessons. For me, I’ve been through a lot before, so there is nothing that this game can throw at me that I can’t handle.”

Related pages

  1. Baltimore Ravens. (n.d.). Torrey Smith: Career Stats at NFL.com. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://www.nfl.com/player/torreysmith/2495459/careerstats
  2. Branscombe, N., & Wann, D. (1991). The Positive Social and Self Concept Consequences of Sports Team Identification. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 15, 115.
  3. Bush-Hager, J. (n.d.). Partner Radio Stations. WBALTV. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from    http://www.wbaltv.com/Torrey-Smith-s-Story-Against-All-Odds/-/9380084/8902230/-/sgvk4e/-/index.html
  4. Ebbeck, V., & Stuart, M. (1995). The Influence of Perceived Social Approval on Moral Development in Youth Sport. Pediatric Exercise Science, 7, 270-280.
  5. Partner Radio Stations. (n.d.). WBALTV. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://www.wbaltv.com/Torrey-Smith-s-Story-Against-All-Odds/-/9380084/8902230/-/sgvk4e/-/index.html
  6. Singer, J. N. (2008). Benefits and Detriments of African American Male Athletes’ Participation in a Big-Time College Football Program. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 43(4), 399-408.
  7. Torrey Smith. (2013, April 12). Wikipedia. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrey_Smith
  8. Valkenburg, K. (2012, November 15). At the heart of Torrey Smith. ESPN. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/page/hotread-torrey-smith/heart-baltimore-ravens-receiver-torrey-smith

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