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Streaming With Mr. Smith

Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith is working to win a Super Bowl — and to get all of his teammates to binge-watch his favorite TV shows and read his favorite books

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Most quarterbacks worry about teaching the rest of the offense how to approach film study or third-down protections. Kansas City’s Alex Smith is no exception, but he also gives his teammates much more important advice. Earlier this year, for example, he walked into the quarterbacks’ meeting room and provided some crucial instruction:

“‘Guys, you’ve gotta watch Black Sails,’” former K.C. backup quarterback Aaron Murray remembered Smith saying. Smith is widely regarded as one of the smartest players in the NFL, and those brains show up off the field as well, with teammates viewing Smith as something of a cultural curator who recommends books and bingeable TV. His grasp of prestige television in particular is the stuff of legend in the locker room. Smith has the Chiefs at 2–1 entering a key Sunday night matchup against fellow AFC playoff hopeful Pittsburgh, but to K.C. players, he’s not just the man who’s thrown 145 NFL touchdowns: He’s a 6-foot-4 Netflix suggestions carousel.

“He’s had a lot of influence on what I watch,” said former teammate Chase Daniel, who’s now with the Eagles. Like many football players looking to make use of their extended spring and summer downtime, Daniel needed a show to watch this past offseason, so he decided to listen to Smith, who a year earlier had begged him to start HBO’s Silicon Valley, believing Daniel and his wife (whose favorite show is Seinfeld) would enjoy the dry tech satire.

“We started to watch it and we watched all three seasons immediately,” Daniel said. “I texted him and said, ‘This is the best show ever!’ and he said, ‘I told you!’”

Smith doesn’t have fancy rules for dishing out recommendations; he watches and reads everything he can, then shares his thoughts with whoever he thinks will like hearing what he’s learned. And his taste is certainly eclectic: “I’m watching The Expanse right now,” Smith said last month, referencing a little-known space opera that premiered in December. “Please don’t print that. People will think I’m a geek. It’s on Syfy. OK, you can put it in, but my brother recommended it.”

Smith’s greatest trait seems to be his ability to personalize suggestions. Murray, a fifth-round 2014 draft pick for the Chiefs who’s also now with the Eagles, loves pirates. “I mean, I always wanted to be a pirate. I think it’s sweet,” Murray said. So, Smith told him to watch pirate drama Black Sails and accompany the program by reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. “I hit these guys with the 1–2, the show and the book,” Smith said. Murray was hooked. “I loved it,” he said of the package deal. Murray, who began watching House of Cards with his family before he was with the Chiefs, has always loved television, but he expanded his viewing mind upon joining the team and meeting Smith. “He has a feel for what we want,” Murray said. “Veep, Black Sails, we all watch, then we have a group-text chat about it. We’re watching Game of Thrones and all texting, ‘Oh my God, did you see that?’”

Smith has a captive audience for his suggestions because, as Murray noted, binge-watching fits perfectly into NFL lives. There’s a seven-month offseason, and there are plenty of viewing pockets during the season, too: After studying film or practicing for about 12 hours a day, players need something to do that’s not football, “and you can’t take a nap because you are so wound up from practice, but you need to get off your feet, so you pick a few shows and try to watch a little bit,” Murray said. Smith, of course, has suggestions. “He’ll sit there and pitch shows to us,” said backup Chiefs QB Tyler Bray. “He’ll come in and say ‘OK, time to watch this show.’” Center Mitch Morse explained the game of Telephone: Smith gives the quarterbacks a show to watch, and then the quarterbacks tell others until the reco works its way through the roster. It’s good for bonding: Morse and Murray held Game of Thrones viewing parties in the offseason.

Smith’s favorite show is The Wire, but he doesn’t need to recommend that, he said, because most people have seen it. He’s more eager to expand horizons: “TV is something we’re all into. I’ll push them a little bit, same as books — I try to push reading on the young bucks,” Smith said. “We have open minds and thick skin. We try to grow and do different stuff in areas we haven’t been into.”

It’s not all altruistic, however. Smith, 32, has a secret agenda for getting teammates to watch his shows: It prevents them from watching as many things that skew too young for him.

“Aaron Murray got really into Twilight, and I definitely felt out of the conversation,” Smith said. “There are times I can feel very old. But we have a lot of common tastes, and if we don’t have the same tastes it’s fun to push each other.” Recently, that’s included getting the other quarterbacks to read the book version of The Revenant, as well as the novel City of Thieves, by Thrones cocreator David Benioff.

Other quarterbacks offer suggestions, too. Bray has given the hard sell on Peaky Blinders, which he said some teammates have gotten into. “The brother, [Arthur], he’s a little out there,” Bray said. “He’s wild, and you never know what he’s going to do. I like that.” Morse tried to get his fellow Chiefs into Deadwood, but doesn’t think anyone’s bought in just yet.

Daniel said Smith has so much time to consume culture because he’s not on social media. (Smith joked that he constantly makes fun of fellow teammates who spend time on Snapchat, while they make fun of him for not being on it.) “He’s super well-rounded and so cerebral and so smart that it actually makes you feel a little bit dumb,” Daniel said. “Because you feel like you don’t have time to see what’s going on in Europe.”

Daniel said he thinks Smith’s tendency to focus on more than just football actually helps the QB on the field because he’s not “overcomplicating the game” with too much film study, instead playing a very simple take-what-the-defense-gives-him approach. “He doesn’t overdo it, and then come game day, he’s confident in his ability, and he’s not worried about a million things he’s not going to see,” Daniel said.

There may be a downside to getting everyone so hooked on television, though: Bray said overeager teammates can binge ahead of the busier Smith by a few episodes. “He has kids at home, he doesn’t have a lot of time, so he may not have seen every episode of what we’re talking about,” Bray said. “We have to talk about some episodes when he’s out of the room.”

Daniel hasn’t played with Smith since last season, but said the vet’s fingerprints remain all over his pop culture consumption. “I’m watching Silicon Valley, and there will be that sarcastic humor and there’s a joke that doesn’t make me laugh, but I sit there and think ‘I guarantee you — Alex would think it’s hilarious.’”

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.