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JUST A KID AT HEART
Richard Hoffer
September 06, 1993
Raider defensive end Anthony Smith has found his calling—helping kids from poor neighborhoods in L.A.
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September 06, 1993

Just A Kid At Heart

Raider defensive end Anthony Smith has found his calling—helping kids from poor neighborhoods in L.A.

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"Do you understand," he says, "how I can walk in my home now and get choked up? You don't know how happy I am. I own this furniture. I have money in the bank. When I take the kids shopping and they say, "Hey, Anthony, can we afford that?' I say, 'Yeah, and we can buy this over here too.' Man, I could live on the first floor and enjoy the view."

Now that he's a Raider and does own his furniture (of his own design, in fact), he's anxious to share himself. The idea of responsibility intrigues him. Among the books piled at one end of his couch is a copy of the Complete Indoor Gardener. Taking care of a few houseplants, scattered by the kitchen, is his idea of a starter family. "Did you ever notice that people who make things grow are warm and caring?" he asks. It's as if he means to find out whether he's up to the next logical step.

But he already has an enormous family. Now that he's a Mentor Ambassador to four housing projects in addition to Nickerson Gardens, he sometimes finds himself in charge of 500 kids. That was how many he took to Magic Mountain amusement park in April. He has enormous responsibilities. One kid has stabbed another and wonders if he should turn himself in or just forget about it. Smith makes a decision. A woman calls him to say her grandchild has stolen her car. Smith makes a decision. One boy, whom Smith has grown especially fond of, is having school troubles. Because the parents are at jobs, Smith goes to the boy's school to talk to his teachers.

Smith is awed by the dimensions of these responsibilities. "I've got to be different," he says. "I've got to have my stuff together when I step out there."

Smith does not drink, smoke or frequent clubs. He takes being a role model seriously and laughs at Charles Barkley, who says that athletes have no civic duties: Has Barkley spent a day in Nickerson Gardens?

Mostly Smith's job is just to be there. One day he took a pair of four-wheel ATVs, toys he just had to have, down to the projects and raced them around with the kids until the cops chased them. Another time he bought the kids pizzas. Another, he took them into a store and bought them hats. Another, he assembled them for a cookout and dragged them through a supermarket where, to his surprise, they bought every premium item available. How did they know about this stuff? "Grey Poupon?" he asked a little girl.

He would buy them caviar if they enjoyed it. Small price to pay. Because when he gets back to his home, he can look at himself in the mirrored walls and like what he sees: a filthy white jersey, more love than he'll ever repay.

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