Smith apologizes for punching player during pickup game

Smith apologizes for punching player during pickup game »Play Video
Portland mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith apologizes for punching a player in a pickup basketball game and for pushing another player during a coed soccer game.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith apologized Thursday for punching an opponent during a pickup basketball game last November.

He said he was defending himself. Smith also apologized for a second incident on a soccer field where referees ejected him for pushing an opponent.

Two months after announcing his run for mayor, Smith was at Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women getting kicked out of a pickup basketball game. As Willamette Week's Nigel Jaquiss first reported, Smith got into it with the guy guarding him. The rough play eventually led Smith to throw a punch.

"I've played pickup games hundreds and hundreds of times," he said. "I tend to more often be a peacemaker and hope in the future to be one and apologize. I feel bad about it. And hopefully I have a chance to play some more."

During an on-camera interview with KATU News, Smith declined to discuss the skirmish, saying, "I think the facts have been reported."

But off camera, he said the opposing player threw him to the ground first. Willamette Week reported the player complained Smith punched him in the groin.

Smith denied he punched the player in the groin and instead said it was the thigh.

Two basketball players, Jordan Wilson and Micah Ganz, who were playing basketball at Harriet Tubman Thursday evening, and were not involved in the Smith incident, said rough play happens but rarely does it escalate.

"I can't honestly say I've seen (a punch thrown) in a pickup game," Wilson said.

Ganz agreed. "Cooler heads prevail eventually."

In a separate incident last year, Smith was ejected from a coed soccer game for pushing another player who Smith said pushed first.

The pushing isn't unusual in soccer but it is unusual for a mayoral candidate to be ejected for pushing or for throwing a punch.

"There's a difference between this and being in elected office and serving in City Hall," he said.

In response to a question about whether he has a temper, Smith said, "When I get pushed physically sometimes I push back, and I should do a better job of turning the other cheek. I do a pretty good job and often a very good job of helping to keep tensions calm in challenging situations."

He acknowledged that he should hold himself to a higher standard and "act in a way that is appropriate for the office."

This version corrects the name of Harriet Tubman. It served grades 6-12, not elementary students.