Saying “she is my why,” Chris Smith stood by the difficult decision he had reached and was in uniform for the Cleveland Browns’ game Monday night, just days after his girlfriend was killed in an accident on a Cleveland highway.

“She always had this tattoo, said ‘Stay strong,’” Smith said of his girlfriend, Petara Cordero. “I used to always pick at her about it. We’re using it now.”

Four weeks after giving birth to the couple’s daughter, Cordero and Smith were out for the evening last Wednesday when one of the tires on his Lamborghini malfunctioned at around 2 a.m. He pulled over and, as Cordero stood beside the car, a 47-year-old woman struck the side of Smith’s car, and Cordero, who was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Smith now has a “Stay Strong” tattoo on his right forearm and added the words to the cleats he wore Monday night. “To play tonight was for her,” Smith said after the Browns beat the Jets. “It was a hard week, but I knew this is what she’d want me to do.”

Smith admitted that he nearly was overcome by his emotions at one point Monday night. “When I got out there, because she was at my last game, I kind of got out there and was like, man, she’s not watching,” Smith said. “Spiritually she is, but physically she’s not watching. It kind of got to me a little bit.”

He reminded himself to “just do it for her, do it for her. This is what she wants you doing, do it for her.”

He admitted that he was “ready to give up,” immediately after the accident, but changed his mind Friday because he thought about Haven Harris Smith, his 4-week-old daughter with Cordero. In a statement Monday afternoon, he said Cordero “is my why.”

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My W H Y ... #staystrong❤️

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“I had to just think about my daughter and she would want me to play. [Browns coach] Freddie [Kitchens] don’t realize, but he said this in a team meeting: ‘When we go off of emotion, we kind of make wrong decisions and not go off our passions.’ I got to play for her,” he told reporters after the game (via USA Today). “She’s my rock. My daughter. My other two kids are, too. But for my youngest, I’ve got to be mom and dad. God has stuff happen for a reason. Sometimes we don’t understand God’s plan, but she’s in a better place now. The rest of my life, I’m going to fight for her.”

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