Fred Smoot was in the parking lot of Redskins Park today, loading a FedEx truck with sealed boxes while the uniformed FedEx driver stood by, watching nervously.
“Lift with your legs, man,” the FedEx guy said. “We can’t have you getting hurt — and it’ll cost me my job if you do.”
“I’m lifting all upper body,” Smoot said, laughing. “What I need is one of those FedEx uniforms. I could get used to this job.”
My immediate concern was that Smoot was looking for some part-time holiday work, what with the economic downturn and the Redskins recent addition to their cornerback ranks, but that turned out to be incorrect. This was simply the first part of Fred Smoot’s participation in today’s Redskins Charitable Foundation Redskins Read event — loading boxes of books to bring to Rolling Ridge Elementary School in Sterling, Virginia.
I’ve talked to Smoot about children’s books before, which led to about an hour of me Googling various possible spellings of “Buffy and Mack” and growing increasingly frustrated, so maybe I should’ve been skittish. Really, though, the idea of an event that consisted entirely of Fred Smoot reading a book to an auditorium full of kids seemed to promise a certain amount of built-in comedy. Instead, I got a surprisingly moving tribute to Veteran’s Day, so the world remains full of surprises.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, honestly, was the first Redskins introduced at the school: former Hog Raleigh McKenzie. McKenzie is currently a teaching assistant there, and expects to become a certified teacher in the near future. He spoke to the kids about the importance of their dreams, which was also much more moving than it sounds typed out like that.
Then Fred Smoot arrived, still carrying a box of books from the truck, and introduced himself to the kids. “I’m from the South, now,” he said, “so I’m going to read slow.”
Smoot initially sat on the stage alone, before looking around and inviting a huge group of kids to sit with him while he read America Is.
(Not this blog, although I would’ve paid good money to see the assembled elementary school student body respond to Smoot making such points as “When Crown Prince Abdullah glided in to land at Bush’s ranch in Texas after September 11th, he demanded that all female air traffic controllers be removed from their posts.” And also not this “flash photographic essay on key American values,” although that might’ve been interesting as well.)
This was a straightforward children’s book (“an unabashedly patriotic picture book,” says Publishers Weekly), and the sort of thing that seems hokey and forgettable under most circumstances. But watching a whole roomful of kids hang on Smoot’s every word, after reciting the loudest Pledge of Allegiance I’ve ever heard (“I could hear y’all down the street,” Smoot said) and being educated on the history and meaning of Veteran’s Day … at the very least, it was more than the mildly amusing bloggable event I was expecting.
Unsurprisingly, Smoot had an excellent rapport with the elementary school kids, which was highlighted when he took their questions. It was mostly real hard-hitting interrogation like “What’s your name?” and “What’s your favorite color?” but even the Q&A had its touching moment. A boy in a 21 jersey asked, “Were you sad when Sean Taylor died?” and Smoot said, “I was sad, and it’s good to see you wearing his jersey.”
After the questions and answers wrapped, Smoot went outside to unload the truck and deliver the books to the kids.
(Yes, the first kid in line was wearing a Gus Frerotte Redskins jersey, which is awesome. I suspect that whoever that jersey was originally purchased for is at happy hour in some college somewhere, which just makes it even more awesome.)
So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself commemorating Veteran’s Day properly, not just being mildly amused at the reading of a children’s book. I’m still disappointed that I haven’t gotten to hear Smoot actually read any of the Buffy & Mack stories, though. Something to look forward to.