Chris Smith sat in front of his locker Monday night, surrounded by a handful of reporters, and pointed to his new tattoo.
In small script on the inside of Smith’s forearm, it now says “stay strong.” It’s not only a tribute to his late girlfriend, Petara Cordero, who died tragically in a car accident last week, but also a mantra Smith has embodied in the days since he lost the mother to his newborn daughter.
Now, Smith, his family members and Cordero’s family members all sport the same tattoo. On Monday night, Smith embodied it when he played a large role in the Browns’ 23-3 win over the Jets.
“She always had this tattoo that said ‘stay strong,'” Smith said. “I used to always pick at her about it. ‘Why don't you just get more tattoos.’ We're using it now.
“I just got to stay strong for everybody else. That's the main thing. When they see me strong, it makes it a little easier. I've got to stay strong for everybody, for her, my daughter.”
Check out the best photos from the Cleveland Browns win over the New York Jets yesterday by team photographer Matt Starkey
Smith’s support system -- both outside and inside the Browns organization -- has helped him through the unspeakable tragedy. It’s not going to be easy for one of the most infectious and upbeat players on the Browns roster, but the people closest to him have helped Smith keep his head up and brought a smile back to his face.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, players shuffled in and out of Smith’s house. Freddie Kitchens visited Wednesday morning before briefing the team. Owner Jimmy Haslam was there Friday when Smith asked his permission to be able to play against the Jets.
“When that first happened, I felt like I was ready to give up, throw in the towel, retire and stuff,” Smith said. “I had to just think about my daughter and she would have wanted me to play. Freddie doesn't realize it, but he said in a team meeting, when we go off emotion we make wrong decisions. We have to go off our passion. I have to play for her. She's my why. My daughter is my why, my other two kids are, too. For my youngest, I've got to me mom and dad.
“She's in a better place now. For the rest of my life, I'm going to fight for her.”
Smith returned to practice Saturday, and with him came a number of his closest family members. Kitchens checked with Smith one more time Sunday to make sure he was confident in his decision to play.
Smith gave Kitchens no reason to doubt it, and Smith, who was named one of the team’s captains for the game, responded Monday by giving the Browns 26 productive snaps in what was a dominant performance by the defense.
Just like the last week as a whole, it wasn’t always easy, but Smith got through it by embracing the love and support from his teammates and coaches while continually staying strong.
“I got out there and was like ‘man, she's not watching,’” Smith said. “Spiritually she is, but it kind of got to me a little bit. I just always hear a voice saying ‘do it for her, do it for her.’ Everybody says I always take the good out of every situation. The good is I still have my daughter.”