NFLPA Executive Director ‘De’ Smith made deep Houston impression

Tom Kennedy

DeMaurice F. “De” Smith currently serves as the executive director of the NFL Players Association, a position to which he was unanimously elected eight years ago. Before that the gentleman who prefers to be called “De” compiled an impressive law enforcement career from the prosecutorial side of the justice equation.

After graduating from the University of Virginia law school, Smith, 53, spent nine years prosecuting criminals from the U. S. Attorney’s office and one year as counsel to then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, where he worked on such issues as national security and prison construction.

It was this law enforcement background that paved the way for Smith to almost instantly bond with HPD Sgt. Nick Wilson, who was assigned to be Smith’s driver and security during Super Bowl Week.

“Where we hit off,” Wilson told the Badge & Gun, “was when I found out he was a former federal prosecutor in DC. He told me he worked for

the federal (anti-drug) task force. All week we talked about when he was a prosecutor and I worked over at DEA as a supervisor for the Houston Intensive Drug Trafficking Area.

“The federal government designed these units, combining federal, state, county and local units to fight the drug problems in urban areas. All cities have them. I’ve been a group supervisor since 2008.”

So Smith and his HPD driver talked about fighting drug dealers and “hit it off.” And, of course, they also accomplished other worthy goals (see our Austin Gryder story).

Wilson and others in HPD wound up regarding Smith as a warm-hearted and extremely effective ambassador for the NFL and the men who take the field to butt heads all during that annual time period that culminates at the Super Bowl.

Smith also served as a trial lawyer in private practice before taking the NFLPA helm. He was a litigation partner in the Washington, D.C. offices of Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs, serving as chair of the firm’s government investigations and white-collar practice groups. He also represented Fortune 500 companies and argued numerous cases before the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

During his tenure as executive director of the NFLPA, Smith tackled issues such as improved player safety, better player salaries, long-term health care and increased benefits for retired NFL players. In July 2011, Smith helped the association negotiate with the NFL owners and agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.

He also was a key figure in the 2011 lockout involving the players and team owners. He could have been named Most Valuable Player in that crucial union game.

Wilson was impressed with Smith’s record and list of accomplishments, not the least of which was the fact that “he said he will always feel he is a part of the law enforcement family.”

The sergeant had never heard of Smith until he got the weeklong assignment and didn’t realize that the man is truly a national figure, for Smith has been a commencement speaker for the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia Law School.

“We talked more police shop talk than football. That’s what he wanted to do. That was where his heart was.

“You’d never know what an important man he is,” Wilson said. “He was just like one of us. And I think he fit in really well with the HPD family. I consider him a family member.”

That feeling and the most exciting title game in many years makes you wish the Super Bowl was played here every year.