Crime and Drugs? ‘None of It’s True,’ Says Anthony Smith
It was a gripping story that Anthony Smith, now a Raider defensive end, told of his childhood.
In 1989, while at the University of Arizona, Smith told Times sportswriter Steve Springer and a reporter from the Arizona Republic that he had risen from a life of crime and overcome a serious drug problem.
Orphaned at 3, Smith said, he had been shuffled from relative to relative and had been swallowed up quickly by the urban jungle of New York. He claimed to have stolen a car when he was 8, walking away after two friends had been killed in a crash during the joy-ride.
Smith wove a tale involving gang wars, a bank robbery and a jail sentence for robbing an armored car.
He also said he had escalated in drug use from marijuana to cocaine, PCP and heroin, and that a younger brother had overdosed on heroin.
Smith said he had kicked his drug habit after spending two years in a rehabilitation center, during which time he was so strung out that he scratched the paint off the walls with his fingernails.
That was Smith’s story then. He tells a different one now.
“None of it’s true,” Smith said, recently, looking over a copy of the story that appeared in The Times on Nov. 10, 1989.
Smith’s original interview was recorded and the tape still exists, but when he was invited to listen to it and comment, he declined.
So what was the point of it all in 1989? Publicity? Some kind of joke?
Only Smith knows, and he isn’t saying.
“There’s no need to talk about things that aren’t going to help me,” he said. “Every day when I wake up in the morning, I’m trying to be a better person. There are some times when people say things about you and when people hear things about you, and they just make up things to say about a kid--it’s really hard on that kid.
“If I’m doing great, they’re going to talk about me, and if I’m doing bad, they’re going to talk about me, so it doesn’t matter. They hung Jesus. What do I matter?
“I’ll clear up everything for you right now. My full name is Anthony Wayne Smith and my Social Security number is . . . ,” he said. “Go and find out if I have any record at all.”
Since Smith was a juvenile at the time of his alleged criminal activity, his criminal record, if any, would have been sealed.
The New York Police Dept. doesn’t release juvenile records, and a police spokesman in Elizabeth City, N.C., where Smith was born and lived after leaving New York, said Smith had no criminal record there.
So if what Smith had told reporters was not true, why didn’t he recant when the stories surfaced in 1989?
“When things happen and people try to clear things up, it makes them guilty, because if it wasn’t true, there’s no need of clearing things up,” Smith said. “There used to be a time when you could read the sports page and read about a man’s heroic triumphs.”
Whatever Smith was or wasn’t as a youngster, since coming to Los Angeles, he has led a life that some might describe as admirable. He has received several awards for his charitable work, and these charitable acts have included buying glasses for a needy youth.
And if he ever did have bad habits, they are gone now, he said.
“Go and ask anyone on this team, and if they’ve ever seen me drink, I’ll pay $1,000 to any one of them,” he said. “Go and ask anyone on this team if they’ve ever seen me use drugs, and I’ll pay $1,000 to any one of them.
“Anyone, period, that can say that they saw me drink or use drugs, I’ll give them $1,000 and wouldn’t think anything of it. If you come back with a person’s name or picture that said they saw me drink or use drugs, I’ll give them $1,000. Let them show their face. If they’ve seen those things, let them come up.
“I’m doing things that are positive, and if you guys can’t deal with that, I’m sorry,” Smith said. “I want to be one of those athletes who contributes a lot to the game of football. I don’t want my name to be connected with things that aren’t productive.
“I’m a model citizen and I’ve done things that I can be proud of and my family can be proud of. I’m not out to hurt anybody. I’m not out beating anybody’s daughters, and I’m not out drinking anybody’s rum.”
Rip Sherer, who coached Smith at Alabama and Arizona before becoming the coach at James Madison University, praised Smith.
“He overcame a heck of a lot of adversity,” Sherer said. “I don’t know what he was like growing up, but he’s made himself into a real solid person. When he was at Arizona, he was the most sought-after speaker among kids. My kids love him.”
Smith has also become a successful businessman, operating a limousine service, a travel agency and a barber shop.
But football is Smith’s main business.
After the Raiders had made him their No. 1 draft choice in 1990, Smith justified the selection by playing well in the exhibition season. He had expected to get a lot of playing time behind defensive ends Howie Long, Greg Townsend and Scott Davis, but his season came to an abrupt end when he suffered a ruptured ligament and torn cartilage in his right knee a week before the season opener.
“I really don’t remember it myself,” Smith said. “I just remember falling down, and I was in a lot of pain. You just have to experience it to really know what I’m saying.”
Unable to play, Smith became a yell leader, lending vocal support from the sideline as the Raiders progressed through the season to the AFC championship game, where they lost to Buffalo, 51-3.
Was it hard for Smith to sit on the sidelines while the team prospered?
“I felt like I was still a part of the team last year,” Smith said. “I was just unable to perform. This team is just like my family, and I was going to root for them.”
Smith also played well during the 1991 exhibition season. His game-ending sack of Chicago quarterback Peter Tom Willis preserved a 13-10 exhibition victory over the Bears, and he had two sacks as the Raiders ended the practice season with a 17-7 victory over the Chargers in San Diego last Friday night.
“He’s really been coming on well,” nose guard Bob Golic said. “His pass rushing has always been phenomenal, and now he’s getting a chance to play the run.”
With their All-Pro defensive ends getting along in age--Long is 31 and Townsend turns 30 later this season--Smith represents the Raiders’ future.
“I think Anthony Smith can be as good as Anthony Smith wants to be,” Long said. “Anthony is a naturally gifted football player. He does things instinctively well. He reads (offenses) well and shucks (offensive linemen) well. He always seems to be around the ball.
“I don’t think (Smith’s injury) set him back at all. If something like that is going to happen, you hate to say it, but it’s better that it happens early on, when your recovery and recuperative skills are good. When you’re 22 and you break something, it mends quickly. When you’re 31 or 32 and you break something, it doesn’t work that way.”
Smith thinks he can become as successful as Long and Townsend.
“They are household names and they’re very wealthy,” Smith said. “I want to be a household name, and I want to be very wealthy.”