LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD: Panthers WR fighting for justice, from personal experience

Panthers owner, wide receiver get involved in fairness in criminal justice system

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Torrey Smith has seen a side of Charlotte most people never will.

Earlier this month, the Carolina Panthers receiver scheduled a daylong tour through the local criminal justice and education systems.  The tour included stops at Jail North, the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, and a Charlotte-area middle school.

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The initiative was a part of his work with the Players Coalition, which includes fellow NFL athletes whose stated goal is to end racial and social injustices for the benefit of future generations.

Smith is currently playing his first season with the Panthers, but also played with teams in San Francisco, Baltimore and Philadelphia. During his career, the husband and father dedicated much of his time and platform promoting both education and criminal justice reform.

“You’re talking about a day-and-a-half max that you have to be able to impact the community,” he said of the tour. “A guy gives a couple hours of that time, I think that's the least you could do.”

It’s also personal for Smith.

During his childhood, his mother pleaded guilty to felony charges and was sentenced to prison.

Smith said she was in an abusive relationship with her ex-husband, and during a violent incident between them, she shot him.

“Yes, she deserved to go to jail for her crime,” he said. “It's illegal to harm someone.”

Smith said it’s life after she served her sentence that proved difficult.  His mother, then considered a convicted felon, had a hard time finding a job until she was granted a pardon, clearing her record.

“We go from living barely above the poverty line to now, she's making six figures all because someone said, "oh it's OK, you can take this off her record,'” Smith said. “When people are labeled felons, it's like a life sentence.”

While in Philadelphia, Smith was instrumental in a near year-effort to pass House Bill 1419, the Clean Slate Act.

The law seals the record of someone who committed a misdemeanor but had no other conviction after 10 years. The law also applies to people who have been arrested but did not a conviction.

“There's nothing to gain,” Smith said of his efforts.  “It's just simply doing the right thing.”

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