NFL: Smith apologizes for punch
By Mike Cranston
SPARTANBURG, S.C. ó Steve Smith apologized and talked about winning back the respect of his teammates, coaches and fans. A battered Ken Lucas accepted Smith’s apology and discussed his impending surgery.
And the Carolina Panthers’ coaching staff tried to keep the team together after an ugly incident involving two of the team’s highest-paid players.
A subdued, apologetic Smith returned to practice Monday, three days after the three-time Pro Bowl receiver punched Lucas in the face at practice, and two days after he was suspended without pay for the first two regular-season games.
“I’m completely wrong,” Smith said in a rambling, four-minute meeting with reporters that ended with him declining to answer questions. “It was an asinine decision. And I’ll move forward better than I probably have ever had to. It’s the first time in my life that I really haven’t forgiven myself.”
Lucas also appeared on the field for the first time since Smith slugged him while he was on one knee and not wearing a helmet.
The starting cornerback, with a black left eye and swelling near his nose, rode a stationary bike while the team worked out, thanks to the broken nose that will sideline him two to three weeks.
“Depending on the surgery,” Lucas said. “We’re still waiting on the doctors to give us the timetable on when we’re going to have this procedure done.”
Smith never mentioned Lucas by name. Nor did he explain the incident. During a break in Friday morning’s practice, the 5-foot-9 Smith hit Lucas after a heated discussion over a previous play.
“I will not put myself into a position where I have to defend myself, to state my side of the story. There’s no side,” Smith said. “There’s only one side, a lack of judgment on my part.
“I have no excuse. All I have is the opportunity to gain the respect of my fans, to gain the respect of my family, gain the respect of my co-workers and gain the respect of the organization.”
Smith was sent home from training camp after the incident, and did not practice Friday night or Saturday morning. He rejoined the team Sunday night and apologized in a team meeting.
“He was very remorseful, and we accepted it,” safety Chris Harris said. “We’re moving on. We’ve got our eyes looking forward.”
Smith, the team’s top receiver the past three years, worked with the first team at Monday’s practice. But it was clear things had changed.
Smith, who led the NFL in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns in 2005, didn’t talk trash with defensive players. He never spun the ball on the turf after making catches, as he’s done in the past. He said little to teammates.
It was a major setback for Smith, who had seemingly overcome the anger issues that defined him early in his career. Players had talked about Smith’s maturity in recent years. He was even voted an offensive captain last year by his teammates.
Just last week Smith chastised reporters for continually bringing up the past, including the 2002 incident when he punched practice-squad player Anthony Bright in a film session, earning him a one-game suspension.