Red Card

Jefferson Smith says he regrets acts of unsportsmanlike conduct that have gotten him banned from the court and field.

LOTS OF CONTACT, NO FOUL: "Usually I take the brunt of more physical contact than I dish out," says Jefferson Smith (with his puggle, George Bailey).

Politics is a rough business—but it's light duty compared to lining up against Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-Portland) on the basketball court or soccer field.

Smith, who is running for Portland mayor, has acknowledged to WW that he was ejected from a basketball game and a soccer match last year after altercations with opponents.

In the basketball game, he punched the man guarding him, and a co-ed indoor soccer league banned him for the season after he pushed an opposing player. The other players involved were not kicked out of the games.

On Nov. 2, 2011, Smith joined a pick-up basketball game at the Harriet Tubman School gym in North Portland. Smith had recently begun playing with a group of men who'd been meeting for regular games for a decade. 

WW interviewed six players, including Smith, who gave consistent accounts. During the game, Smith—6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds, according to his driver's license—hit the floor after a collision "Face up and ass down," as one witness put it. That's when Smith punched an opponent. 

One player who witnessed the punch found Smith's actions so remarkable he wrote about them in a journal entry that night.

"[I]n all of my ten years or so playing in this organized pick-up game, I have never seen anyone seem like they were close to throwing a punch let alone to actually throw one," the player wrote.

According to the journal entry, which WW has obtained, the other player yelled at Smith, "You just punched me in the balls!"

“I punched you in the thigh, not the balls,” Smith replied. 

Michael Anderson, one of game's the organizers, says he told Smith to leave. "Never in the time that we've been playing have we had to kick somebody out for fighting," Anderson says.

Smith later apologized by email to the players and hasn't taken part in the pick-up game again.

The player he punched declined to be interviewed. He never returned to the game, either.

Smith tells WW the other player provoked him. "I was making a statement that he should stop knocking me around," he says. "He took it a couple of steps too far."

As to whether he aimed his punch at his opponent's private parts, Smith pleads innocent. 

"If I wanted to punch him in the nuts," Smith says, "I would have punched him in the nuts."

Earlier that year, in January 2011, Smith was ejected from a co-ed soccer match at Portland Indoor Soccer at 418 SE Main St.

Smith was playing for a team sponsored by the D'Amore Law Firm, and players that day recall a scrappy contest with lots of trash-talking and physical play.

"A guy ran into me real hard," Smith recalls. "We were up against the boards. He hit me hard enough to make my ribs hurt for several months. I pushed him. The ref blew the whistle and gave me a red card."

The league later banned Smith for the remainder of the season.

“It wasn’t that big a deal,” Smith says, “because my ribs hurt so much I couldn’t have played anyway.” 

Smith says he regrets both incidents. "I haven't had anything happen like that for years," he says. "If somebody hits me physically, I need to do a better job of turning away."

Smith says off the court and field he is a mediator, not an instigator. 

"I've had pretty intense negotiations over pretty difficult issues," he says. "I've dealt with the press and had thousands of interactions with lobbyists. I tend to be pretty different when I put on a tie."

“I just turned 39,” Smith adds, “and I’m mellowing.” 

WWeek 2015

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