The National Football League should expect more lawsuits from former players who have suffered injuries, the top official of the players’ union said.
“You’re talking to a litigator,” said DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said on “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television. “So, you know, reality will dictate that it’s never really the end of lawsuits.”
The NFL in August agreed to pay $765 million to settle thousands of lawsuits accusing the league of not telling players about links between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Smith, formerly a federal prosecutor and partner at the lobbying and law firm Patton Boggs LLP in Washington, said he was working with the NFL to help protect players.
“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,” said Smith, 49. “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.”
Smith said the league and the union are trying to find out what really happened between Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin. Incognito was suspended Nov. 3 amid allegations that he bullied Martin, who left the team Oct. 28. The matter is under investigation by the NFL.
“I’m only worried about the culture of the locker room if it’s non-professional, if it’s non-supportive,” Smith said. “If the evidence dictates that that’s what happened, then not only will the league act, but so will we. But it’s always important to make sure that we understand truly what happened first.”
On the injury front, the league is safer than it was, and steps are under way for even more improvements, Smith said, citing research into better helmets and mouthpieces.
“It’s our obligation to never be satisfied about where we are in workplace safety,” he said. Both the union and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “have an obligation to constantly look at ways to make the game safer.”
Smith said the league and the union were trying to learn more about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease that can cause mood swings, depression, loss of memory and increased irritability. Tony Dorsett, a Hall of Fame running back with the Dallas Cowboys, recently was diagnosed with evidence of CTE.
Smith also said the Washington Redskins’ Brandon Meriweather was wrong for responding to fines for hits to the head by saying, “You’ve got to tear people’s ACLs and mess up people’s knees.”
During the show, Smith also called for a discussion over the Redskins’ name “with all of the right folks” to make sure “we have a team that reflects the best in Washington.” The name is considered a racial epithet by many Native Americans and others.
“And I don’t believe that we should ever do anything to intentionally hurt or engage in racial slurs,’ said Smith, who stopped short of saying whether the team should change its name.