NewsLocal NewsKC on the Clock


'Get more out of football than football gets out of you': Head of NFL Players Association talks NFL Draft  

Posted: 11:52 AM, Apr 26, 2023
Updated: 2023-04-26 20:13:28-04
De Smith 4X3.png
NFLPA Executive Director De Smith (left) and KSHB 41 anchor Dia Wall.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — DeMaurice Smith is what you call a straight shooter, but his path to becoming executive director of the NFL Player's Association was quite the opposite.  

After a career as counsel to former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, then private practice, Smith was contacted and encouraged to apply for the job. You may be surprised to know that he's, by his own admission, not a football guy.

"I think being a fan hurts you in this job and I think the best way to approach this job is to not necessarily be a fan," he says. "I love football but I love our players more."

In a nearly hour-long interview, KSHB 41 Anchor Dia Wall talked to Smith about the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City and the role the NFLPA plays for prospects turned players.

His message for 2023 NFL Draft picks?

"What I would say for every player is welcome to the National Football League. Get more out of football than football gets out of you. For every fan, enjoy it and dig it and love it but never forget, and treat everybody as if they were your own family."


Dia: The NFL Draft is coming to Kansas City. What is the significance for the players walking across the stage to have the NFL PA?

De: "For us, we have a healthy relationship with the NFL, but they are management and we are labor. While it is a great opportunity to dive into the hoop and the fun of what the draft is, we are there to remind every player that the union is the one that makes sure you have a pension. The union is there to make sure we govern your work week and how much time you can spend on the field.

The union is the one that makes sure you have healthcare. The union credentials all of your doctors. All of those things were not gifts from the National Football League. Not one. We bargain and we fight for every one of those."  

Dia: When do you engage those prospects and what does that conversation look like?

De: "We've gone back to what we call rookie engagement. It's about increasing the touch points we have with every rookie and that starts for some of them with our pathway to the pros program.

The Monday before the Draft, we start to have all of the draftees with us for three days talking about what it means to be a professional. How to carry yourself in this business. Making sure they understand this is a great deal of fun but this is a not-for-long league.

Later on, we have Rookie Premier, where we'll take the top 40 rookies and we'll have them for almost a week. We introduce them to our business, NFL Players Inc. If you're a fan of the Madden game or if you have trading cards, our players actually go into the Madden game during Rookie Premier. They'll see the mock up of their first official trading card. They'll get their first real jersey from us and that's important because, this is such a great opportunity for a group of incredibly talented athletes, but at the same time, we've seen every story.

Almost none of our players come from money, so we're walking into a league where our minimum salary is going to be $800,000. That's our minimum. Our mean is $2.5 million. If our men treat this opportunity in the right way, it's transformational not just for them but for their future generations."  

Screen Shot 2023-04-26 at 11.38.27 AM.png

Dia: When the draft is happening, where are you sitting? Who are you talking to? What are you watching?"  

De: "When the draft happens, I usually go because I do like the theater of it at the beginning. After that, every year, I've grabbed two or three friends and we just go to dinner somewhere."

Dia: When do players get paid after the draft?

De: "Great question. So the reason why you have to make so many thoughtful decisions is our players don't start to get paid until September after the first game. A lot of our players had trouble managing budgets with a 17-week paycheck. Where you start to get a check in September. Your checks end, for almost everybody, in January."  

Dia: Not until February around Kansas City...

De: "Well, you get a couple more weeks. You know, the reality is trying to budget from February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September."  

Dia: What impact have you seen with now, name, image, likeness at the college level?

De: "Name, image, likeness was the right decision because remember, it's not compensating any college athlete for what he or she is doing on the field. It simply allows you, the athlete, if you want to use your name, image and likeness off the field, you can actually get paid for it. Name, image, likeness is going to transform college football.

Hopefully, it transforms it in positive ways. At the same time, we know the NCAA doesn't like name, image, likeness. They're lobbying Congress right now to overturn those things. A problem can never result from a real person being compensated for what's theirs. That's what name, image and likeness is."  

NFLPA De Smith.png
NFLPA Executive Director De Smith

On his job: "My primary role, at least the way I see it, is to teach. So much of what we do, so much of the business of football, so much of what it means to be an athlete in college, it's so steeped in history. If our players don't understand the history, they don't understand the present. Patrick (Mahomes), for example, was one of the youngest reps ever elected. Do I think that is inextricably tied to the fact that is father went through the baseball strike? Yes."  

On meeting with owners: "When I walk into the room, I'm generally the only person in the room who looks like me but also, 75 percent of our players are African-American. When a group of people who don't look like us want to make decisions that we believe or I believe aren't in the best interest of the players, then it should be on. If they want to act unilaterally in making decisions like the unilateral rule they tried to impose to ban players from kneeling, yes, we were going to file a action in federal court against them because it's free speech."  

On Lamar Jackson: "What's happening right now with Lamar Jackson is in my view, the most blatant level of collusion in my tenure. Kansas City has a superstar, so OK I get it. They might be off the list, but you could probably count on maybe one hand the teams that have that level of quarterback. When we look into a market where 25 teams have not even picked up the phone to call him, that's collusion. That's owner power. Frankly, every player in the National Football League should be outraged. Every quarterback should be outraged."  

Super Bowl Football
Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin, center, poses with his parents, Mario and Nina Hamlin, right, NLFPA President JC Tretter, left, and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith after Damar Hamlin was introduced as the winner of the Alan Page Community Award during a news conference ahead of the Super Bowl 57 NFL football game, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Dia: You could feel something was different when Damar Hamlin is on the field and you see the faces of his teammates and everything that transpired. I think that's the most I've heard the national discourse on the NFL PA.

Where is the union? What does the union do in a situation like that? It's been really remarkable to see. Talk to me about what the players association was doing and has done for Damar Hamlin in a situation that was honestly just really traumatic for the country.

De: "The best news is what we do for Damar is what we do for every player. We have a 100 percent injury rate. It's not if you get hurt in the National Football League, it's when you get hurt in the National Football League. When a catastrophic injury like that happens, the only thing you can hope for is that person gets the best treatment that he coul possibly get.

After that, whether it's helping him with his contract, helping him with medical care, helping him with transition... all of those things are things we do. The reason I focus on that moment before he gets hurt, we started credentialing doctors to make sure that the most qualified doctors were on the sideline long before Damar Hamlin."  

I don't let our players call themselves gladiators. You're not a gladiator. A gladiator in ancient Rome is someone who was less than a person than was the person cheering for them in the stands. If uou call yourself a gladiator, you're making a conscious decision to denote yourself as something worse than a human."  

Dia: Less valuable?  

De: Less valuable. These are our husbands, these are our fathers, these are our sons and if you look at it that way and you can figure out a way to enjoy the game that way and walking across that stage is going to be fantastic but what would you want for your husband or for your son or for your father?

— —