Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith was honored Tuesday night for his work fighting homelessness and domestic violence.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty presented the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens, with the Stewart B. McKinney Award at a special ceremony in downtown Washington, D.C. Smith and his wife, Angie, created the Steve Smith Family Foundation to help victims of domestic violence and homelessness.
Smith, 35, dressed in a gray suit and gray striped tie, said it was an honor to receive the award. Sometimes, he said, he and his wife questioned whether people noticed the work they did off the field.
"To receive this award means a lot to my family and myself," he said. "But it also says that work (gets done) in a little town like Charlotte by a little organization and a big city like D.C. notices."
The award is welcome news for the NFL, which remains under a dark cloud of scrutiny over how it responded to several domestic violence incidents this year, including the knockout punch delivered by Smith’s former teammate Ray Rice to Rice’s then-fiancee, and the guilty conviction of former Panthers teammate Greg Hardy in the assault and death threat against Hardy’s former girlfriend.
Jeffrey Pash, who is the National Football League’s executive vice president and general counsel, presented the award. It was named after late Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, a Connecticut Republican who sponsored legislation providing federal assistance to the homeless.
Pash pointed out the 35-year-old receiver torched his old team last weekend by scoring two first-half touchdown catches in his most prolific receiving game in three years. But he said Smith was being honored for his work off the field to help the homeless.
"Steve, you represent everything that is good and admirable about the men who play in the National Football League," Pash said.
Pash did not mention the Rice controversy, and many of Rice’s former teammates have shied away from commenting about the assault and its fallout. But in typical fashion, Smith did not.
Smith is arguably the best football player to wear a Panther uniform, but he is no angel. He has twice punched his own teammates. Still, he made his views on punching women very clear via Twitter soon after the video became public showing Rice knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator in Atlantic City.
"You know its not that hard get!!!! Keep your damn hands off women!!!! God made women for you to Lean on them Not beat on them," Smith wrote on Twitter.
Tuesday night, Smith grew flush as Pash praised him. Several of the members of the audience stood as he accepted the award. Several more stood when he announced that he was giving the center a check for $5,000 and thanked leaders for the work they did.