Steve Smith

His story documents a former Penn State and NFL star’s life journey. Although he excelled at football since an early age, he always remained humble and had a back-up plan. He never counted on making it to the Pros, so when he was drafted in the third round by the Raiders in 1987, it was a huge surprise. In many ways, playing in the NFL was a double edged sword. In order to maintain his spot on the roster, he ran each play as if it were his last and endured an estimated 18,000 full speed helmet to helmet collisions. At the same time, he enjoyed nine years in the NFL doing what he loved most. He also met his future wife, Chie, a Raiderette, who cheered for him on the sidelines. It was the ultimate fantasy. Following retirement from football, his story shifts to fighting for his life after a diagnosis of brain injury and ALS in 2002. With Chie still by his side, they remain a model couple, still very much in love, and taking it day by day. Most people with ALS survive only two to five years after diagnosis. Steve has amazed us all with his strength and courage. In his story, we are able to look into the eyes a young athlete who soaked up every bit of the football culture, played passionately for true love, not fame and fortune, and ultimately gave his life to the game.

“Love makes you do anything for the one you love. I developed a love for the game that made me trust in a system that did not love me back.”

Steve is passionate about bringing awareness to ALS and promoting research and education on head injuries and football. Below is an excerpt from his literary work in progress:

“…I don’t expect you to know who I am, although I did enjoy nine glorious years in the NFL and had the honor of serving as a team captain on Penn State’s 1986 National Championship team under Joe Paterno. I’m fine with not being “famous” as I never thought I would even make it to the pros, let alone get drafted in the 3rd round by the Los Angeles Raiders and block for one of the greatest running backs of all time, Marcus Allen and one of the greatest athletes of all time, Bo Jackson.

I was a fullback which means I played one of the toughest positions in the NFL. I went head to head with the defense every play while the cameras were focused on Marcus running and scoring touchdowns. I also played on special teams and was responsible for setting and breaking the wedge, which is a role that is now banned due to the violent nature and overwhelming number of injuries involved. I was always taught to “take one for the team” and that’s what I did. I never imagined my devotion to the game would require over 18,000 full speed head-on collisions. If I thought for a second that I would be sacrificing my future and my family’s future, I would have found a way to do things differently.

I remember when my running back coach at the Seahawks taught me how to lead with my shoulder to protect my head when I hit. I had been playing football since I was a little boy, had dozens of coaches, and was never taught this technique. What does that say about the education of coaches in little league, high school, college and the pros? Knowing the risks of head injury and being taught correctly could have kept me from being in my current position. I am full of life and feeling on the inside, but there are only two physical emotions I can express…crying tears and smiling. I am trapped inside a body completely paralyzed as a result of brain injury…unable to speak, eat, or breathe independently. I watch as my babies, now young adults, live their lives trying to navigate this world without me. I watch as my beautiful wife, the woman I fell in love with when I first entered the league, spends every minute of every day caring for me. I did not sign up for this and they definitely did not sign up for this….”