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October 28th, 2009
07:22 AM ET

Commentary: Protecting NFL players is paramount

Editor’s Note: DeMaurice Smith is the executive director of the NFL Players Association. Previously, he was a trial lawyer and litigation partner at a D.C. law firm. Smith previously served as Counsel to then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder in the U.S. Department of Justice before entering private practice. He will be speaking today to the House Judiciary Committee on the impact hard hits and concussions have on NFL players. Below are excerpts from that testimony given exclusively to CNN.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="DeMaurice Smith says the number one priority of the NFL Players Association is to protect those who play the game."]

By DeMaurice F. Smith

As Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, my number one priority is to protect those who play and have played this game. There is no interest greater than their health and safety. Let me repeat: protecting the players is paramount.

The House Judiciary Committee deserves immense credit and appreciation for bringing this issue of concussions and brain trauma in the sport of football to the forefront. I am confident that the Committee and today’s hearing will be a turning point on this issue and my hope is that this day will serve as a marker denoting the day that those of us that are involved in football at the highest level commit ourselves to finding the right answers.

It will not only influence this game at the professional level, but for our players in College, High School and Youth Football. I have one simple declaration on behalf of those who play and those who played this game: We are committed to getting the right answers, to work with everyone who has the goal of protecting our players and to serve as a model for football at every level.

Watch Smith discuss player safety Video

Given that commitment, I acknowledge that the Players Union in the past has not done its best in this area. We will do better. To men like John Mackey and Brent Boyd and to the families of Mike Webster and Andre Waters, and other players that suffered and continue to suffer daily, I commit and we commit to this as our mission. We will not fail them or their families.

Between 2000 and 2008, there were hundreds of studies highlighting this issue. I believe that the NFL MTBI Committee has reviewed many of them. Unfortunately, the NFL diminished those studies, urged the suppression of the findings and for years, moved slowly in an area where speed should have been the impetus. But as we learn more about this issue, one thing becomes clear: the days of denigrating, suppressing, and ignoring the medical findings must come to an end.

We need to share relevant information, embrace expert researchers and collectively find the right answers.

The game of football is America’s passion; it is often discussed, analyzed and debated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And the discussions focusing on the business of football are becoming increasingly popular. Fans of our great game are fully aware that the players and the owners are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement and that much of player health and safety will be discussed in that process. Our players, our fans and the NFL should also know that we cannot wait until an agreement is signed – or worse, perhaps, a lockout – to begin taking corrective steps today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of DeMaurice F. Smith.

Filed under: Commentary • Sports
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Bret

    FOOTBALL ? ... Talk about blows to the head, what about Boxing and Kick Boxing where people pay big money to see the knock out blow... how many blows to the head (without a helmet) does a boxer take compared to football ?

    October 28, 2009 at 8:39 am |