Former UNC and current Panthers linebacker Smith on front lines of social change

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Spend any amount of time talking to Andre Smith and you quickly realize how thoughtful, funny and honest he is.

"Honestly, I've never been pulled over (for no reason). Every time I'm pulled over, it's for speeding," Smith said. "I can't say that I've ever really been followed around a store or anything like that, but I have been called the n-word."

You can add leadership to that personality profile. As a new member of the Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee, he's now charged with making a difference in the community.

"I just understand how important it is to affect your community if you can," he said. "Especially as a Panther."

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The linebacker out of UNC said the Panthers' initial efforts will be focused on voter registration and opening lines of communication between the police and the people they serve. He's been out at the Charlotte demonstrations.

"I felt like I could tweet all these things, I can repost all these things, but actually going out there and doing something physically was just a totally different experience," Smith said. "It felt liberating, I guess."

The players have the total backing of team owner David Tepper. In fact, he reached out to each of them individually.

"Telling me how much he supports us and how important it was for us to keep this movement going even after all the hype dies down," Smith said.

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Head Coach Matt Rhule is similarly supportive. It's an entirely different atmosphere than just a couple of short years ago.

"Times now it's easier for athletes to be on the front line, and to use their platform because a few years back we would get a lot of ridicule and just a lot of hate," Smith said. "You know, stick to your sport and all that stuff. So now I think it's great that we use our platform. We're on the front lines, we're out there marching."

Most of all, Smith wants the people in the streets to know that the Panthers have their back.

"I completely understand the situation. I'm aware, and that I'm right there along with you, fighting the good fight," he said.
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