KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is not someone prone to making public statements, especially the kind that could be construed as political, controversial or divisive.
So when he showed up to a news conference after a victory at Carolina last Sunday and there was a tiny silver safety pin on his shirt, a subtle act intended to promote tolerance stood out.
"It’s funny," Smith said Wednesday, "I didn’t even think it got noticed at the time."
Wearing safety pins has become commonplace following the presidential election as people in all walks of life, many of whom are concerned about Donald Trump’s proposed policies, have made public their desire for a more inclusive and diverse society.
"I’ll tell you what it wasn’t: It wasn’t anything political. Nothing to do with the presidential election. For me, just everything to do with tolerance, understanding," Smith explained before heading out to practice.
"Something I found out about at my kids’ school where they were teaching about diversity and tolerance, and I don’t know why. Just felt like it was pertinent at the time."
Some athletes have expressed their dissatisfaction with Trump’s election, including Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans, who sat during the national anthem before last week’s game against Chicago.
The Chiefs play the Buccaneers this Sunday.
That wasn’t Smith’s intent, though. The safety pin was meant to draw attention to the divisiveness in the country.
The election may have been part of it, but so has racial discrimination that led to the Black Lives Matter movement, and perceived attacks on sexual orientation and gender equality that have been linked to North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2.
"There’s a lot going on right now. Things are crazy. I think there’s a lack of understanding across the spectrum between people of different beliefs," Smith said. "It had nothing to do with the presidential election or the outcome and everything to do with tolerance and diversity."
The Chiefs have supported their players’ freedom to speak on social issues.
In the season opener, cornerback Marcus Peters raised a gloved fist during the national anthem in a "black power salute" that was reminiscent of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Peters said the act was meant to increase awareness of racial inequality, and that he stood in solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been kneeling for the anthem this season.
"That’s what is so great about America, right?" Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "The NFL does a great job of letting people express themselves not only on the field as players, but also as people.
"We’re just a microcosm of what this country is," Reid added. "It’s all healthy. That’s what makes this country the greatest place in the world to live."
Smith said he didn’t mean to draw attention away from the win over the Panthers, nor did he want to create a stir in the locker room.
But he did say the locker room can be representative of the kind of tolerance people should embrace, pointing out that the 53 guys on the Chiefs’ roster come from different states with different social and economic backgrounds and varying religious beliefs.
"Growing up, playing team sports, there’s guys in this locker room that think a vast variety of ways," Smith said. "That comes back to respect and understanding, and there’s a lot of respect and understanding in this locker room."
Smith didn’t say whether he would continue to wear a pin this season, but he did underscore that he didn’t want the small act intended to promote unity to become disruptive.
"Like I said, it’s about understanding of all humans. I don’t care what you believe, where you stand — Muslim, Jewish, Christian, you name it," Smith said.
"I do know it’s been tied here or there, but that’s certainly not why I wore it. It originated from my kids’ school and they’re trying to teach about diversity. I wasn’t trying to be a distraction."