SANTA CLARA -- Nearly four years ago, Torrey Smith met Muhammad Ali.
It was September 2012, and Ali visited the practice facility of the Baltimore Ravens when he was in the area for a fund-raiser. Smith, a second-year NFL player, was thrilled to be in the presence of Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion and a champion of human rights.
“It was awesome,” Smith said. “All of us were starstruck. You see Ray Lewis starstruck. Guys were like, ‘Man, this is Ali.’ He’s a greater man, and he means more to all of us out of the ring than in it, and that says a lot about him.”
Ali passed away Friday in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 74. Smith posted a photo he took with Ali on social media and wrote the following:
Still can't believe I had the opportunity to meet this man...words can't describe how much I admired his confidence and work outside of the ring...it's important to recognize those who paved a way for you...and those who helped change the way folks view you...Muhammad Ali helped make this world a better place...Thank You!!!! RIP
On Tuesday, Smith said 49ers players and coaches have talked about some of Ali’s quotes since getting back together for the final week of the team's offseason workout program.
“Everyone is affected by Ali in some way, shape or form, especially an athlete,” Smith said. “And myself as a young, African-American male, I can appreciate everything he’s done for, not only other African-Americans, but people in the world, in general.
“Since he’s passed away, there’ve been so many new stories I’ve read and things I never knew about him.”
Smith was born in 1989, eight years after Ali retired from boxing and five years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Still, the influence has been great.
As he enters his second season with the 49ers, Smith has made it a priority to be a valuable member of society off the field.
In 2014, he was nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Smith created the Tevin Jones Memorial Scholarships Fund to provide scholarships for deserving high school seniors. The fund was named in memory of his brother, who passed away in 2012. And the Torrey Smith Foundation provides resources and opportunities for at-risk youth in Baltimore.
And Smith is not shy about speaking his mind via social media on any topic.
Within the past week, Smith has expressed support for the victim of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. He has been critical of the judge who sentenced Turner to six months in jail.
Smith has also questioned people who respect presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “as a man or a politician.”
“Part of it is being myself,” Smith said. “I never want to say anything that’ll put the team in jeopardy. As long as I have a disclaimer in my bio that my thoughts and opinions are not those of the 49ers, I’ll talk about whatever.
“There will be times when I talk about something on Twitter, and I’ll come in here and have a discussion with Jed (York) about it. Just open dialogue, ‘What do you think about this?’ Things that are going on in society or things that are going on here. It’s pretty cool. It’s all communication, as long as I’m not out here doing anything crazy.”