With the upcoming NFL Championships & NFL Super Bowl it is fitting to remember Gerald “Jerry” Sanford Smith (July 19, 1943 – October 15, 1986) who was as a professional football tight end for the Washington Redskins from 1965–1977.
Smith had a stellar career with the Redskins. He played in the 1973 Super Bowl VII, and Sports Illustrated called him “an outstanding receiver among tight ends, with the ability to break open for a long gain.” In his career Smith caught 421 passes, including 60 touchdowns, a record for tight ends at the time. He was named All-Pro twice and held several NFL records that stood for years.
Smith died of AIDS on October 15, 1986. He was the first former professional athlete to die of the disease. Although he acknowledged that he had AIDS, he never publicly acknowledged his sexuality. Smith’s sexuality was confirmed after his death by a former teammate, pro NFL football player David Kopay, who had come out of the closet years earlier. The Redskins logo, along with Jerry Smith’s uniform number 87, was part of the AIDS quilt.
Being an athlete in any sporting field and admitting your sexuality must be a tremendous thing to carry quietly. We tip our hats to Jerry for his years on the field.