Q&A WITH A UNION LEADER NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith

What do you enjoy doing outdoors?

I have had the privilege of coaching all my kids, so I spent a lot of time outdoors. My wife and I are very fond of the beach. When we are at the coast in North Carolina, we spend a lot of time walking on the beach.

Have you done any hunting, fishing or shooting?

When I was younger, my dad and I fished a lot at Deep Creek Lake. We also fished along the Youghiogheny River. We went deep sea fishing a few times. My dad taught me how to shoot, mostly 12-gauge. Every year, we would go to the Poconos and do some skeet and trap shooting.

Why did the NFLPA decide to partner with the USA?

Supporting the USA is another way for us to be connected with organized labor. Leaders like Rich Trumka have been mentors to me personally, so I have a firm belief in what unions stand for. Our members constantly hear that football is something that you do; it’s not who you are. I want our members to embrace the fact that they don’t just have to be identified as football players, and our partnership with the USA is a unique way to help them do that.

What do you believe is the greatest value the USA provides to NFLPA members?

The opportunity to connect with other people with similar interests outside of football. Our guys are always connecting with people who are fans, and that becomes somewhat difficult because it would be like someone who just wants to connect with you because you’re a writer or connect with me because I’m a lawyer. It’s a very one dimensional relationship, so I love the idea of facilitating opportunities for our guys to connect with people outside of the football world who share similar values. I think that’s really important in the development of a young man and the development of his family.

Why do you think it’s important that the USA brings union members together to tackle conservation projects?

When you really boil it down philosophically, I believe in the union movement, not just because it’s my job, but because you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of people who are so inextricably tied to their community and their country.

It’s easy for somebody who is at the top of the corporate ladder to not be part of any of those things, so it’s not a coincidence that when you talk to people who care about climate change or conservation or our wetlands or protecting us from environmental damage, they aren’t CEOs. They are working men and women. Whether we are talking about a group of people trying to preserve their farms or people living off the land or people who make their living off of our waterways, those tend to be folks who understand the importance of preserving the earth and who aren’t just looking to make a buck off of it. That’s the reason I love our members – they love football for what it is. They love the game not because of their fans, not because it makes them money, but because they genuinely love the game for what it is. When I think about sportsmen and women who love our country, they love it for what it is.

Where do you hope this partnership between the USA and the NFLPA leads?

I would love for it to lead to a place where our members and their families have a deeper, richer connection with a group of people who share their interests outside of football. That is number one. Secondly, the reason why I serve on the executive council of the AFL-CIO has nothing to do with football. If we ever as a union of NFL players become distanced from the fact that our players are working men, that needs to be the last day that I have this job. I remind our guys that we aren’t different. We aren’t special. While the owners are sitting in a box taking it easy, our players are the men who not only get their hands dirty but get their hands broken. What I hope comes out of this relationship is that our union as well as a number of the unions that you cut across build deeper and longer lasting ties.

I guess the last thing, and this is something that I learned watching Rich in action, is that we are always looking for ways to connect with our larger family of organized labor. Because so many of our players participate in hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities during the off season, the USA became a natural way for us to get our players more involved in this union and with other union members outside the football world. With so many different unions with different goals, I believe we always have to focus on the things we have in common. When I look to the USA, I look to it as one of the ways we can focus on the core things that bind us together.

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Jess Levens
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Photo courtesy of the NFLPA

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