In the world of professional football, few figures are more influential than DeMaurice Smith P’17, executive director of the National Football League Players Association. From helping negotiate the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) among players and owners to securing better futures for professional football players, Smith has been at the forefront of major circumstances in the legal realm of the sport. He spoke about his time at the NFL as well as his career as an attorney Monday, April 13, at Higley Auditorium as part of the Student Lectureship series.
Smith, who grew up in a family of Baptist preachers, said his career options were either to go into the ministry or to become a lawyer. As a sophomore at Cedarville University, a liberal arts institution in Cedarville, Ohio, he decided to pursue law. He went on to earn his law degree from the University of Virginia, and since then, he has represented Fortune 500 companies and served as counsel for then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder in the Department of Justice.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have three careers. When I started engaging in private practice, it was really interesting and tough,” Smith said. “I never thought I’d leave private practice, but working with the players of the NFL has been enjoyable.”
For students interested in pursuing law like Smith, his advice is simple. “At the end of the day, steer yourself and always have an eye out to enjoy what you do.”
He stresses the importance of education, something he passed on to his daughter, Elizabeth Smith ’17 — who he jokingly said would heckle him during his lecture. (She didn’t.) “When you’re a parent and that day happens when they’ve been in school for a while and they call you, saying they’ve fallen in love with an institution of higher learning. Just the ability of going to a school that challenges you to think and ask tough questions … That’s the experience I wanted for my daughter.”
With the NFL’s personal conduct policy under current scrutiny with incidents from players such as Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, Smith still has one objective to meet: representing and fighting for players’ rights.
“When you see something like that, you say to yourself, ‘That should never, ever, ever happen.’ Those guys [Rice, Peterson] understood that the minute I talked to them. But it doesn’t mean we shy away from representing their interests,” Smith said prior to his lecture.
Still, Smith says he doesn’t get discouraged with incidents that occur with players. “We have nearly 2,000 football players. Most are great husbands, dads, community members and so on. There are far more success stories,” he said. “But if bad things happen, we want them to be addressed in a fair and balanced way.”