For the professional athlete

, the thought of having a career ending injury is a nightmare. The idea that all the years of sacrifice and preparation to perform at the highest level ending because of something you can’t control would be unthinkable. The first thought is to curse God, get mad at the world, while at the same time thinking that their destiny and purpose has ended. For those athletes who aren’t mentally strong or don’t know what their life will be like outside of the sport they have training for, it can be particularly catastrophic. This was not the case for former San Francisco 49ers cornerback, Tyrone Smith.

In 1999, Smith broke the T-5 (Thoracic) vertebrae in his back (spinal column) while playing in NFL Europe. For some people, that incident would have broken their spirit, but through Smith’s brokenness, he found wholeness, peace of mind and found fulfillment in his true destiny.

“I truly believe that this is my purpose in life,” said Smith. “I believe we all are called to do something and my purpose in life is to make a difference in the lives of young people.” Smith is the co-founder, CEO and president of First and Goal, Inc. in Houston, Texas, a non-profit organization that focuses on youth. Smith teamed up with Derrick Harris (former NFL player for the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams) and Darnell Walker (formerly with the 49ers) to start this organization 10 years ago and is celebrating their anniversary. “We wanted to create an organization that would be a life changer in the lives of young people, not just to put on football camps and sign autographs for kids,” said Smith. “That became the concept of First and Goal and it became an instrument to help provide the necessary tools, support and resources for young people to enrich and help put them in college and be an asset to society.”

Smith recognized the blessing it was to be a pro athlete and is honored to have an impact on thousands of children lives. “What a better way to do it (starting an organization) as a former NFL player to have a stage to draw kids in, but at the same time help give them some life application skills so they can make better decisions that will affect the world we live in today,” said Smith.

Smith’s football career began at WillowRidge High School in Missouri City, Texas. He experienced the naysayers from the beginning. “Growing up I had so many people that said I wasn’t going to do anything, be anything, wasn’t prepared or fast enough for college, and wasn’t good enough to play in the NFL, but ‘He’ believed in me,” said Smith.

After playing his collegiate ball and graduating from Baylor University, Smith signed as an undrafted free agent with the 49ers in 1996 and thru hard work not only made the roster but played for the franchise for three years. Smith went on sign to with the Washington Redskins in 1999 and reunited with his friend, defensive end Dana Stubblefield (who signed with the Redskins in 1997), but was cut right before the 53-man roster was set. The following year, Smith was injured and never returned to the field.

There are times when people are thinking they are walking in their destiny but find their true purpose through that pursuit. Smith earned his degree in sociology with a minor in social work while he was in San Francisco. He spoke to inmates at San Quentin California State Prison and worked in the 49ers Foundation. But it was in D.C. at the Redskins’ training camp when it ‘clicked’ for Smith as to what his purpose was. “I wasn’t upset (when he was cut), but it was critical for me,” said Smith. “We had bible study each evening after practice or training camp that Darrell Green (Redskin and NFL Hall of Fame great) would lead. The title of the bible study was called ‘Knowing your purpose’. Each day, Darrell talked about knowing your purpose and one thing he asked was when we all were in school, who loved going on field trips? All the guys raised their hands of course because everyone loves going on trips. Then Darrell said when you go on the trip, you get on the bus, you go on the trip, you came back to school, and eventually, you went home. Darrell said your purpose isn’t to be a professional football player (purpose for school is not to go on trips), your purpose is to do something greater than the game of football (go to school to be educated and prepare for life). You can have an injury, get cut or something can come up and cut your career short.”

Through Smith’s experiences and his foundation, he has had the pleasure of speaking at youth events, after school programs, sports camps/clinic/banquets, churches, school assemblies, community centers, and youth leadership conferences. Smith knows the importance of having a dream living in a negative environment. To have an opportunity to help young kids to have a vision is just as satisfying. “Although I was around negative influences, I was a dreamer,” said Smith. “This was a dream I actually had for myself (having a foundation). So I always wanted to create a program to help those kids who have a low esteem, help those kids to have a vision, push them into their purpose and be a difference maker for them.”

Smith’s passion to help inspire youth has already influenced his little nephew, Jonathan Smith, a junior at Towson University. “What Tyrone is doing is great and after having the experience this summer of working at a football camp inspired me,” said Jonathan. “Because of that and what Tyrone is doing in Texas, I know what I want to do for the rest of my life, helping kids. I will do my internship with him in his organization this year and hopefully next year.”

Smith’s uncle and father of Jonathan, lives in Baltimore, MD with his family, Jerry, Patricia and Jerry, Jr. (Jonathan’s older brother) Patricia Smith was diagnosed with cancer (mesothelioma), but through prayer and treatment, she is completely healed from the illness. It’s safe to say that the Smith family can endure and recover from anything.

Tyrone Smith has a great testimony of how to overcome when all things appear to be impossible. From negative surroundings to a career ending injury, Smith has a message for all NFL players and the world, a message he lives by and walk in.

“The advice I would give to all NFL players is the same advice I received from Darrell Green,” said Smith. “The NFL means the National Football League, he believed that as a player, you have to look at it as “NOT FOR LONG” because you are not guaranteed to play for long. You have to make the most out of the opportunities because you have to, at the same time, you will have another career after the NFL that will actually allow you to go further in life than the game of football.”

Written By: Barry Barnes

To read more articles from Barry Barnes, click on the dcms blog.