Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith lost his 19-year-old brother to a motorcycle accident Saturday night.
Smith, the oldest of seven siblings, was a primary caregiver as their mother worked to support the family.
He shared a sad but powerful post on Twitter the next morning:
I can't believe my little brother is gone...be thankful for your loved ones and tell them you love them...this is the hardest thing ever
What came next was a rather public question as to whether he would play in the Sunday night game. The team told him he did not have to play, or even be at the game. Smith, in the end, chose to play. From Jamison Hensley, ESPN blogger:
The Ravens' come-from-behind 31-30 victory over the New England Patriots was about wide receiver Torrey Smith putting his heart into a game when it was hurting the most. It was a testament to Smith's perseverance in the wake of tragedy.
Hours -- not days -- after losing his younger brother Tevin in a motorcycle accident, Smith was there for his football family after the players were there for him all during the day. He finished with 127 yards and two touchdowns on six catches in a game that was defined more by moments than statistics.
The prime-time game began with a moment of silence for Tevin and ended with coach John Harbaugh handing the game ball to Smith in the locker room. According to one observer, Smith walked to the middle of the huddle to take the ball and started crying before telling everyone how much they meant to him.
"I have my family, and I have you as my family," Smith told them. "I couldn't have done it without you guys."
Part of me wondered "how can you play a game after such a tragic event?", but then I considered that if you have a gift for doing something, it would be completely reasonable to "do what you do best" in honor of your loved one.
I loved that his criteria for playing was through discerning if he would be a hinderance to his team. Again from Hensley's article:
After each of his touchdowns, the sellout crowd of 71,269 at M&T Bank Stadium chanted "Torrey, Torrey, Torrey." Smith, though, took a private moment after his first score to kneel in the end zone and say a prayer.
"Obviously, you play with a heavy heart," Smith said. "You want to play for that person."
When Smith learned about the news regarding his 19-year-old brother, he left the team hotel shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday to be with his family in northeast Virginia. He told Harbaugh before he left that he wanted to play, but he didn't make the decision until hours before the game.
Smith returned to his team and could get only an hour of sleep. He spent the day talking to teammates and was part of an emotional church service with the team.
When he got to the stadium around 4 p.m., about four hours before kickoff, Smith texted his mother that he was thinking of playing. Her response: his brother would want him to play.
"What it came down to was, being a receiver, you've got to have your mind clear," Smith said. "You can't have anything weighing on you [because] that's going to cause you to drop the ball or have mistakes. I didn't want to hurt my team. I came here, and the more I was running, the more comfortable I began to feel. I'm glad I came back here. I think it helped me out a lot."