Feb. 2, 2017 – DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Player's Association, called for fans to recognize the humanity of professional athletes in regards to safety and legal rights Tuesday at the University of Houston Law Center.
Smith made his remarks in a discussion presented by the Law Center's Health Law & Policy Institute titled, "Medical and Legal Ethics in the NFL and Sports," days before Super Bowl LI is to be played at NRG Stadium between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.
"The kinds of legal protections we have in place for workers apply with equal force to professional athletes," said Professor Jessica Roberts, director of the Health Law & Policy institute. "We were delighted to give the Law Center community the opportunity to hear about these issues firsthand on the eve of the Super Bowl."
Smith provided a broad overview of the NFLPA's activities and also spoke about player safety, including the NFL's issues with concussions, and violence committed off the field by players.
Smith noted that while NFL players don't have typical days at an office or factory, the gridiron is just as much of a workplace.
"We have confronted the league over the issue of workplace safety for our players," Smith said. "While I use the word 'workplace' some would refer to that as a field or a locker room. But if we are concerned about the condition of a field and it impacting the career of a player, that's not a football field for me.
"When those men step on the field they're stepping into the world of a workplace. While football is a great game, my hope is that people understand the NFLPA looks at it as big business."
Smith said the perception of football players being labeled as well-paid, superhuman specimens can make some fans lose sight of their human rights.
"At the end of the day, 99 percent of the fights we have with the NFL are about whether our players are going to be treated as people," he said. "It becomes very easy to say these aren't football players, they're gladiators. Well, they're not. I get a little cross when our own players refer to themselves as gladiators. They're husbands, they're sons, they're fathers, they're brothers -- they're human."
Smith was elected to his position unanimously by a board of active player representatives on March 16, 2009, and re-elected unanimously to a second term on March 29, 2012. He is the first attorney to lead the NFLPA.
Smith is a 1989 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a 1985 graduate of Cedarville University. He is on the faculty of the National Trial Advocacy College in Charlottesville, Virginia; executive in residence of the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, and is a guest lecturer at Georgetown University, Columbia University, Harvard University, George Washington University, and the University of Virginia School of Law. He also has been a guest speaker at the New York Stock Exchange, commencement speaker for the University of Maryland and for the Howard University School of Law.