Union Head Says NFL Should Expect More Player Suits (Transcript)

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that the National Football League should expect more injury-related lawsuits from former players.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

HUNT: Joining me now is the executive director for the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith.

SMITH: Al, great to see you.

HUNT: Let me ask you this; one of the great sportswriters, Tom Boswell, wrote the other day – he’s a big NFL fan – he said the game and the violence has become so pervasive that pro football may well go the way of boxing. Does that worry you?

SMITH: Not really. I mean, I think one of the things that fans and certainly people like Tom Boswell know, the game evolves. You know, if we had to think about where football was in the 19 – early 1900s to the mid-1900s where you had double digit numbers of college players actually dying on the football field. They outlawed things like the flying wedge -

HUNT: It’s more violent today than it was 20, 25 years ago.

SMITH: Well, I guess it’s a question of context.

HUNT: Well, we haven’t, but we’ve seen some pretty bad stuff. Let me ask you about something; you represent the players and you do it very, very well.

SMITH: Well, thank you.

HUNT: The Washington Redskins’ Brandon Meriweather, fined three times for hits to the head. Last time he said, OK, I can’t hit to the head – and I’m quoting now – “you’ve got to tear people’s ACLs and mess up people’s knees.” That’s your players that you represent whose knees he’s going after. Shouldn’t you call out thuggish -

SMITH: And we did, and we have. Look, we expect our players -

HUNT: Was he wrong to say that?

SMITH: He was. And he knows that he was wrong. I called Brandon right after I landed, after I heard his quote, and he said, look, D, I’m sorry. I was mad, I was frustrated, you know I’m not a dirty player. And I know he’s not a dirty player.

But at the same time, do we expect a level of professionalism from our players?

But, I also think that we have to make sure that while we know that the injury rate in the National Football League is 100 percent, I think both of us – both sides; both the NFL and the players association – have to do a better job of making sure that our players are taken care of when they get injured.

So, it’s not just an issue of changing the rules, it’s not just an issue of finding players, it has to be a comprehensive issue of how do we make the game safer?

HUNT: OK, let me ask you about a Hall of Famer, Tony Dorsett. Only 59 years old, diagnosed with CTE. What can the players association do to help him?

SMITH: I think the first thing is we’ve done a great job over the last few years, I think, working together to try to understand more about CTE. I’ve read some of the studies – the UCLA recent studies on detecting CTE in non-cadavers, or human evaluation of CTE and its presence. I think those studies are interesting.

But, I also think that we have to have an unwavering commitment to understanding what happens both on the football field during a game but also during practice.

HUNT: Should there be more current testing going on, then?

SMITH: If it works, yes. I think that – one of the things that I’m thrilled about is our Mackey-White Committee has been at the forefront of – named after the great John Mackey. It was that group that led us to ask the league and early demand that we cut out two-a-day practices during two-a-days to cut down on concussions.

I think that there are some interesting things on mouthpieces and helmet technology that we’re working on.

HUNT: There have also been legal suits; 4,500 former players settled for a $765 million suit with the NFL. Is this the end of suits or will there be more?

SMITH: Well, you’re talking to a litigator. So, you know, reality will dictate that it’s never really the end of lawsuits.

HUNT: So, there’ll be more?

SMITH: Yes. I think likely. The question is whether both sides – and particularly the employer – is doing everything within their power to make the workplace as safe as possible.

So, we have questions -

HUNT: What’s the answer to that question today?

SMITH: You’re speaking from the union leader and I think it’s our obligation to never be satisfied about where we are in workplace safety.

HUNT: You have a teenaged son. Would you want -

SMITH: I do.

HUNT: Would you want him to play in the NFL?

SMITH: I think that if he had the skill level, if he receives the proper training, if he had the desire, I would want him to explore the opportunity to play in the National Football League, but here’s the only caveat; I would want my son to understand everything that I’ve already said to the players of the National Football League. While this is a great game, it’s big business.

HUNT: And the risk.

SMITH: And the economic exchange is the trading of your skill, your body and your mind, for compensation.

HUNT: Miami Dolphins. Are you bothered by the culture in that locker room and that organization? And if Richie Incognito – I hope I’m pronouncing his name correctly – if he’s found guilty of what he’s charged with, should be suspended, banned?

SMITH: I think the premium on finding out what happened in Miami is what we are all interested in. So, there have been a number of allegations; certainly, I’ve read some of the text. I think Richie Incognito would agree with you that the language that he used was unprofessional and really disrespectful. I think he would agree with that.

The question of what was going on in Miami is one that’s currently being investigated by both us and the National Football League. I’m only worried about the culture of the locker room if it’s non-professional, if it’s non-supportive.

HUNT: You were a long-time Washington Redskins fan. You have said that the name is -

SMITH: Now, see, that’s going to hurt me with the Dallas Cowboys and every other team; thank you very much.

HUNT: You said the name has been an important part of the town’s culture. You’ve also said it’s a racial slur. Should Dan Snyder – very specifically, should Dan Snyder change the name of the Washington football team?

SMITH: I feel – well, you know, one, Dan’s never going to take advice from me.

HUNT: No, but what do you think?

SMITH: I think that it’s time for us to have a conversation.

HUNT: Well, we’re having the conversation.

SMITH: No, I mean, macro. And look, I mean, here’s the great thing about this town -

HUNT: Would you change the name if you were the owner of the team?

SMITH: Wow. If I owned the team, there’s a lot I would do.

HUNT: Would you change the name?

SMITH: I think that I would want to engage in a discussion with all of the right folks about how do we make sure that we have a team that reflects the best in Washington? And I don’t believe that we should ever do anything to intentionally hurt or engage in racial slurs. I just don’t think that that’s the best of us.

HUNT: So, I’m reading that as you would change the name, if you had your way.

SMITH: Well, I think the first thing I would try to do is get in better shape and at least try to play it down. You know, that would be my first thing.

HUNT: Well, I want to come see that.

SMITH: Yes. I think a lot of people would pay and then my insurance premiums would go through the roof.

HUNT: My guess is, your son and (Joey) would love to see that. Thank you so much for being with us today.

SMITH: Thank you, Al.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

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