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NFLPA's Smith: player safety an ongoing challenge

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CARSON, Calif. (AP) - DeMaurice Smith has a difficult job.

As the Executive Director of the NFL's Players Association, it's Smith's job to strive to keep his players healthy.

Smith spoke at The Home Depot Center on Friday for the NFLPA's Collegiate Bowl, which will be played Saturday.

Player safety was the topic, and Smith knows there's more work to do.

"In 2009 when I took this job the head of the league's concussion committee was a rheumatologist," Smith said.

New rules have been implemented to improve safety, but he acknowledges that his job is an ongoing challenge.

"From our perspective, there will never be a time in the National Football League when members of this union, and in particular, me, will be happy and content with where we are on the issue of health and safety," Smith said. "Our role is to make sure we are constantly challenging and imploring the National Football League to do a better job."

While the league has been cooperative in implementing and enforcing safety standards for play on the field - such as stiff fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet contact - Smith said the greater challenge he has faced with the league has come off the field - in the front offices, trainers' rooms and doctors' offices.

"We as a union have an obligation to keep the players' employers accountable," Smith said. "If any one of you gets hurt at your job, we call that a workplace accident and you have the opportunity of availing yourselves to workers comp protections. ... Yet in the NFL, we have our teams engaged in a systematic effort to deny our players workers' comp."

Smith said that not every team has been reluctant to comply with some of the union's requests.

"There are teams in the NFL that do an incredibly good job of protecting their players and doing things that are smart," he said. "Our challenge as a union is to have proper rules, and that we insist on levels of accountability that are applicable to everyone.

"But the fact is, at times there is a wide disparity between the way they approach issues like wellness, like workers compensation, like informed consent."

Smith said he understands that there is a mentality prevalent in the NFL in which players will go to great lengths so they can play on Sundays.

"I tend to give the same speech that I give to every team when we see them," Smith said. "We talk about a third to a quarter of the individuals in that locker room are going to be in need of a major hip, knee or joint replacement by the time they are 60 years old.

"They hear that the reported injury rate in the NFL last year was 4,500 reported injuries, while we only had about 1,8000 active players. We also tell them the injury rate in the NFL is 100 percent.

"So it's making sure the players understand the business model they're in. We are pretty blunt with them, telling them that the business model is one that asks them to trade their physicality and their mental ability in exchange for compensation."

Smith said a snag in a potential agreement in testing for Human Growth Hormone is the league's unwillingness to use a system similar to what Major League Baseball has implemented.

"Our issue with HGH is a rather simple one," Smith said. "If the NFL players are going to be held accountable to a standard, if the league is going to use a standard by which they are going to conclude that a player has unlawfully taken HGH supplements, we want to know what the standard is," Smith said.

Smith also mentioned field conditions, coming off complaints about FedEx Field in Washington and the knee injury to Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Smith said the condition of all NFL playing fields - or what he calls "workplace safety issues" - will be a top priority for the union in the next two years.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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