NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith received a Drum Major for Justice award from the SCLC/Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now, Inc. on Thursday.
Before the banquet, he also attended a youth rally to support the “50 Days of Nonviolence” movement at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center.
Smith took some time to answer questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the significance of his award, HGH testing and the concussion lawsuits that the NFL faces from some 4,000 former players.
Q: Are you pleased to receive the Drum Major for Justice award?
A: It’s tremendous. It’s probably the greatest honor that I’ll ever get. For me, it ties in so many things. I come from a long line of Baptist preachers. My grandfather preached into his 80s. His sons are preachers, and to be a part of a family that has dedicated itself to taking care of its flock, to coming full circle, where I didn’t go into the ministry, but I’m being honored by the SCLC, which again, is an organization that has over its lifetime dedicated itself to justice, truth and for the betterment of the people in the community.
Q: What is your message to the youth who may not know the intricacies of Dr. King’s teachings?
A: Dr. King wrote from that Birmingham jail that we are all inextricably tied together in our communities. When you know for a fact that gun violence continues to touch our young people, you know it touches not just the person that pulls the trigger or the person who was the victim. It touches everybody in the community.
The message for our young players, that they hear from me when I talk to them, is that I want them to be good fathers, good husbands and good sons and good members of their community … because (they) are inextricably tied to their community.
Q: Do you see some progress coming soon on the issue of HGH testing?
A: Here’s where we are on HGH testing. We agreed with the league that we’d work together to find an HGH test that was not only accurate, but one that afforded the players fair due process. …
But the reality of this is, the collective bargaining agreement means that both sides have to come to an agreement. And, neither the league, nor anyone else will bully us into a testing regiment that isn’t fair.
Q: Is the union satisfied with the new CBA, especially with regard to middle-class players like Tyson Clabo who was recently cut, that ended the lockout of 2011?
A: There will never be a day in the National Football League when general managers, coaches and owners don’t make decisions about their team composition. What we insisted on for the first time in this deal is that teams spend 99 percent of the salary cap. They are mandated to spend 95 percent of the salary cap. So, today we know that more money is going to players than at any other time in history. …
If we believe that there is collusion amongst teams, as you know, we will enforce our players’ rights. …
Team spends are at all-time highs. Overall spends are at all-time highs. We also were able to create a billion dollars in new benefits for all of the players. If you look at those three measures, I can’t reach any other conclusion than it being a very successful collective bargaining agreement.
Q: Any thoughts on the recent rule changes?
A: Rule changes are important, but at the same time there needs to be focus on what the overall commitment to safety is from the National Football League.
Q: What’s the NFLPA’s stance on the concussion lawsuits by over 4,000 former players?
A: It’s seems to me that it’s not so much whether the claim is legitimate or not. The real issue that those plaintiffs are raising is whether or not the National Football League knew about the injuries and knew about the prospective dangers of these players and failed to warn them. Again, I try to keep it real. When I took this job in 2009, the head of the league’s concussion committee was a rheumatologist. I wish that were a joke.