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Jerry Smith (American football)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jerry Smith
No. 87
Position:Tight end
Personal information
Born:(1943-07-19)July 19, 1943
Eugene, Oregon, U.S.
Died:October 15, 1986(1986-10-15) (aged 43)
Silver Spring, Maryland
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:208 lb (94 kg)
Career information
High school:San Lorenzo (CA)
College:Arizona State
NFL Draft:1965 / Round: 9 / Pick: 118
AFL draft:1965 / Round: 18 / Pick: 141
(by the Kansas City Chiefs)[1]
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Receiving yards:5,496
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR

Gerald Thomas Smith (July 19, 1943 – October 15, 1986) was a professional American football tight end for the National Football League's Washington Redskins for thirteen seasons, from 1965 through 1977.[2] By the time he retired, he held the NFL record for most career touchdowns by a tight end.[3] A 2014 documentary from the NFL Network's A Football Life series profiles his career, as well as his "double life as a closeted gay man and a star athlete."[3]

Professional career

Selected in the ninth round (118th overall) of the 1965 NFL Draft out of Arizona State,[4] Smith was also drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 18th round of the 1965 AFL Draft. [5]Smith had a stellar career for the Redskins under head coaches Bill McPeak, Otto Graham, Vince Lombardi, and George Allen. He played in Super Bowl VII at the end of the 1972 season, and Sports Illustrated called him "an outstanding receiver among tight ends, with the ability to break open for a long gain." Smith caught 421 passes, including sixty touchdowns, a career record for tight ends at the time. He was named All-Pro twice and held several NFL records that stood for years. In 2011, the Professional  Football Researchers Association named Smith to the PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2011 [6]

In 1971, as a part of a USO tour in association with the NFL, Smith, along with other stars John Brown, Butch Byrd, Fred Hoaglin, George Kunz, and Tom Woodeshick, visited and signed autographs for wounded military personnel in Vietnam.

From 1967 to 1970, Smith was a full time starter for the Redskins. He missed several games in 1971 to injury, but was back as a full time starter the following season, and would be until his final season in 1977. During his career, Smith made several all-pro times. His final career stats either are equal to or better than several tight ends that are currently in the hall of fame, Most notably players like Tony Gonzalez, Charlie Sanders, Dave Casper, Mike Ditka, and Shannon Sharpe.[7]


Smith died of AIDS at age 43 on October 15, 1986, at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland.[2][8] He was the first former professional athlete to die of the disease.[3] Although he acknowledged that he had AIDS, he never publicly acknowledged he was gay.[3] He was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring.

Head coach Vince Lombardi, who had a gay brother, demanded a homophobia-free locker room but "not even the legendary Lombardi could insulate him from the crippling societal homophobia of the era."[3] Smith's sexuality was confirmed after his death by former teammate pro NFL football player David Kopay, who had come out of the closet years earlier.[3] The Redskins logo, along with Smith's uniform number 87, was part of the AIDS quilt.

Some of Smith's teammates knew he was gay. Brig Owens, a defensive back for Washington at the time who also roomed with Smith, said Smith lived in fear, because if people knew he was gay, he'd be done in football. He said Smith was afraid that people would take away something that he loved. Owens was one of the players on the team that knew for sure Smith was gay. Dave Kopay was briefly a teammate of Smith's. Kopay came out of the closet in 1972, after his playing career ended. He also wrote an autobiography about having a relationship with a teammate. Even though Kopay used an alias, Smith knew Kopay was talking about him. After the autobiography came out, Smith never spoke to Kopay again.[9]

Of all of his teammates, Smith was closer to Owens than perhaps anyone else. Their bond was so tight, Owens' own daughters referred to Smith as 'Uncle Jerry'. Redskins center Len Hauss was another close friend to Smith as well. On one occasion, a player said a word Hauss did not like (most likely a gay slur) and Hauss confronted the player and said he'd better not hear that word in the locker room again. And that word was never spoken in the locker room ever again. [10]

In 2014, The NFL network aired A Football Life: Jerry Smith. The hour long show was about Smith, his career, and his death from A.I.D.S. Brig Owens was interviewed during commercial breaks. When asked if Smith belongs in the hall of fame, Owens replied that Smith would be in the hall already if he wasn't gay.

See also


  1. ^ "1965 AFL Draft". Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Jerry Smith loses struggle against AIDS". Free-Lance Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). Associated Press. October 16, 1986. p. 11.
  3. ^ a b c d e f NFL Documentary Profiles Closeted Gay Player
  4. ^ "Redskins tab Briggs 'sleeper' among picks". Free-Lance Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). Associated Press. November 30, 1964. p. 8.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Hall of Very Good Class of 2011". Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "AIDS kills NFL's Smith". The Bulletin. (Bend, Oregon). UPI. October 16, 1986. p. D3.
  9. ^
  10. ^


External links

This page was last edited on 23 November 2019, at 06:03
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