Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith didn’t think twice when asked if he’d do it over again given the direct link between football and brain injuries nowadays.
“Yes. Yes I would,” said Smith, who served as the keynote speaker Tuesday at The Salvation Army’s annual ‘Doing the Most Good’ luncheon at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel. “I think if I did it over again, they would protect me better. I think now they’re starting to protect guys better.”
Smith said he had been diagnosed twice with concussions during his 15-year NFL career, adding: “I’ve been dinged a little bit more than three or four times.
“But two concussions is not bad for 20-something years of playing football.”
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Smith, the league’s all-time leading rusher, also had no issues with his son, E.J. (Emmitt Smith IV), playing the sport even though more and more brain damage has been linked to it.
Research has shown that football and repeated blows to the head are directly related to a handful of former players being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease.
Hollywood has made a movie about the issue, showing how bad the disease can get with former players taking their own life.
Smith didn't downplay the issue, and acknowledged he has concerns about his son playing football just like any other parent would. At the end of the day, though, it's not enough to keep his son from playing the game.
Smith added that it helps that he has first-hand experience playing at the highest level, and understands what his son needs to do in order to train and protect his body as best as possible.
Smith also has access to the best doctors around the game, something that he doesn’t take for granted.
“Why would I steal his passion from him? I never made him play football,” Smith said. “He had many choices, options. I love watching him play basketball. Football? I get nervous just like any other parent and I’m concerned for him just like any other parent.
“But his goal, or his goals [in football], and my job is to help him reach it and protect him when he needs protection. So to take another kids’ passion from him is just not right. I don’t think it’s right. It’s like me taking your passion from you, telling you cannot do this when you want to do it, especially if it’s right. It’s good for him.”
Smith rattled off dozens of reasons why football has been a positive factor in his life, and he hopes the game does the same for his own child. That, in Smith's mind, outweighs any possible long-term health issues.
“[Football] has been excellent to me,” he said. “For me, it’s been the greatest life lesson I can actually learn outside of living life without it. It’s taught me about humility, taught me how to work hard, taught me about myself, taught me that I could go further than I ever thought I could.
“It taught me how to deal with pressure, taught me how to step up to pressure, taught me how to be a caring teammate and sharing teammate, taught me about responsibility, taught me a lot about being on time.
“It taught me so many different things. The beautiful thing about football and sports – in sport we don’t care about religion, we don’t care about color, all we care about is, ‘Are we all on the same page, fighting for the same goal?’ And that is to win a championship for our organization and for ourselves. Are you willing to put in the work to be good, or to be great? And that’s the beautiful thing because I think every man makes personal sacrifices in order to play the game of football.”