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Spotlighting S 16 “GAME


Without attorney DeMaurice Smith, there might not have been an NFL season this year. No exaggeration. As executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), Smith successfully guided and—equally importantly—united players throughout protracted negotiations with team owners that culminated last summer in an equi- table collective bargaining agreement, effectively ending an over 18 weeklong lockout and saving the 2011 season.


eated in his spacious offi ce in the NFLPA’s sleek Upshaw building (named for Smith’s predecessor, the late Gene Upshaw) in Washington, D.C., Smith says, “Before we struck a deal with the league in July, there was a real possibil-

ity that the season might be cancelled. T e league had prepared itself fi nancially and mentally. T ey thought the players would splinter. But that wasn’t the case.” Smith was unanimously elected executive director by

a board of active player representatives in March 2009. Prior to becoming the man who would save football, he was a trial lawyer and litigation partner at Patton Boggs where he concentrated mostly on white-collar criminal defense and tort liability. And while a law degree is not essential for his current job, it certainly helps. “I’m also CEO, union leader, and trade association director. But my legal experience defi nitely gives me a comprehensive focus on a lot of the aspects aff ecting our business like antitrust laws and how things work on Capitol Hill.” His litigation experience came into play while negotiating

the collective bargaining agreement, particularly with regard to strategizing and fast-paced problem solving. And though labor law was not in his background, he was unfazed. As a trial lawyer for 23 years, says Smith, he was frequently called upon to master varied practice areas. “When trying antitrust cases, you learn antitrust law, and when trying PVC cases you learn all about tort law. T is time I immersed myself in labor law. When you’re leading a team, you have to know what you’re doing. For me there is no greater kick.” By the time a deal was struck, Smith had helped the

players (more than 1,800 active NFL players and over 15,000 former players) to secure important demands from the league including better working conditions and an improved compensation and retirement package. Additionally, owners’ eff orts to lengthen the season to 18 games, cap salaries, and do away with the players’ defi ned benefi t plan were not met. Smith also persuaded the NFL to view injuries not as

accidents but rather as expected occupational hazards. T e injury rate in football is 100 percent, he says, and must be treated accordingly. And though former players are not entitled to lifetime health care, Smith and the rest of the negotiating team worked to improve many aspects of their post-career care. T ey protected the right to fi le for the top workers’ compensation benefi ts despite league objec- tions. T ey also improved the funds and plans available


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