If Emmitt Smith were to give advice to Ezekiel Elliott, it would go something like this: learn to balance.
And that balance wouldn’t be about the way he avoids arm tackles and keeps his knee from touching the turf at AT&T Stadium while eluding defenders and sprinting for a long touchdown run.
Smith spoke to UPI on Tuesday about the second-year Dallas Cowboys running back, player safety and the dynamics of the politically embroiled NFL.
“I wouldn’t say [we have] a great relationship,” Smith said of his connection with Elliott. “I think we have a mutual respect for one another. I think Zeke is a great addition to the Dallas Cowboys and will make a big difference when he gets back.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Elliott for six games on Aug. 11. The high-profile ban came after a 13-month investigation, with the league eventually finding he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Elliott was accused of assaulting his former girlfriend in 2016, but has never been arrested or charged in the case. He is eligible to return and take the field with the Cowboys for a Dec. 24 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
“Well what I would say is that the world right now is so polarizing,” Smith told UPI. “You have to be extra careful in terms of what you do, where you do it and how you go about doing it. He’s a young kid. Just like a lot of young players coming out of college, you have to learn how to balance the working life and play kind of scenarios and understanding where to do things and where not to. That’s the balance he has to learn.”
During the NFL’s lengthy investigation, Elliott was seen enjoying himself at various bars and nightclubs. He was also involved in an incident in March where he was caught on camera while pulling down a woman’s top at a parade.
“It’s a different environment when you become a professional athlete and so many people are around you taking pictures of you when you aren’t even aware of it,” Smith said. “So you definitely have to be cautious.”
Smith was at an event Tuesday at the Charmin Restrooms in Times Square. He participated in the first-ever Charmin Toilet Bowl, tossing rolls of toilet paper. He also helped present a $10,000 donation from Charmin to the Special Olympics.
Suspensions are being handed down frequently from the league office, in relation to unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness. Some players say it’s about time the NFL is making moves to protect the athletes, while others say that they knew the risks and what they signed up for.
“I understand the NFL taking the initiative to protect players,” Smith said. “Players don’t know what they don’t know until something bad or something catastrophic happens. When you start talking about head trauma, we didn’t know the degree of what head trauma can be like for a number of years.”
“Think about how long the game of football has existed, over 75 years. So there is 75 years of history and we are just now scratching the surface on head trauma. So there are a lot of things that people are unaware of, including players. I think once you get to that level, and are made aware of certain things, you think about it differently. I don’t want my son to be a player to just stick his head and to think that these things are not possible.”
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell opened up about the league’s recent rash of suspensions last week.
“We’re always the last line of defense on bang-bang plays,” Mitchell told reporters. “You never get to see us line somebody up in a hole like a linebacker. We’re playing full speed. He’s 4.4-4.3 speed. Aim that. You go do that. You can’t. It’s just the risk of playing football. If a ball is in the air and the man jumps and a man ducks his head, how do you want me to readjust my body? You cannot do it. At the end of the day this is Foot-Ball. If you want to see flag football, then let’s take our pads off. That would make it easier for me. Now, I don’t have to wear heavy [expletive]. Give us flags for me to pull off so that way I know what we are playing. I signed up to play full-speed, contact football. We’re not doing that. I feel like I’ve got to ask a guy, ‘Hey, are you ready for me to hit you right now before I hit you? That’s crazy. I’m going to mess around and get hurt trying to protect an offensive player because he’s running an over route. [Expletive], your quarterback shouldn’t have thrown the ball messed up.”
Former New York Giants great Osi Umenyiora responded to Mitchell’s comments almost immediately. He disagreed.
The two-time Super Bowl champ sounded off last week on Twitter after seeing the reactions of players fighting the idea of suspensions.
“Are players really this dumb? Hate to say it but c’mon,” Umenyiora tweeted. “Former players have died and are dying horrible deaths because of head trauma. And you’re complaining because the league is taking steps to at least try and reduce it. ‘Make it flag football.’ Ridiculous.”
Smith said that for every generation of football, the game itself gets better.
“The more things get better, the better decisions that you make,” said Smith, a three-time Super Bowl champ.
Smith is of the mindset that NFL players have the same rights as every other American in voicing their opinions about social issues. But he also said the league dynamics were not as divisive during his decorated 15-year playing career.
“It wasn’t really like this,” Smith said of the relationship between owners, fans and players. “There are a lot of things here at play: social issues, game issues, owner issues, league issues. There are so many dynamics in play right now and everything is at center stage and everything is polarizing to the highest of the highs.”
“So as a player, whatever you believe in, whatever you are standing for, as long as you are standing together as a unit or as an organization, most of the time you are standing for the right thing. If it is for the betterment of the game, betterment of the country, betterment of the organization, then I think you are doing the right thing. Players try to do the right things all the time. Sometimes we achieve it, sometimes we don’t, but the effort is there to do what is right.”
While NFL teams around the league have taken different stances regarding player protests during the national anthem, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has made his message clear.
“Understand? We will not…if we are disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period,” Jones told reporters in October.
President Donald Trump complimented Jones after hearing the comments.
“A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag. ‘Stand for Anthem or sit for game!'” Trump tweeted on Oct. 9.
Smith played under Jones from 1990 through 2002. The NFL’s all-time leading rusher is also a member of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.
He said Cowboys players have the same rights as other United States citizens in speaking their minds.
“When you are a free American and you pay taxes in this country, you have every right to voice your opinion just like any other person around the country,” Smith said. “So just because I’m an athlete doesn’t mean I need to shut my mouth. In fact, when you are in this position…that means that you need to be kind of a leader when necessary. “When others are not leading, you might want to step in and influence that leadership or take on that leadership role if you can.”
“It’s the same [for the Cowboys],” Smith said. “This is a free country. Texas is an at-will state. You have the right to speak your mind and exercise your given freedom. Period. It doesn’t matter if you are a Dallas Cowboy or a Philadelphia Eagle, a New York Giant…It doesn’t really matter. You have those same rights.”
Smith said the Cowboys season has been “up and down” headed into a Week 15 date with the Oakland Raiders.
“There have been some bright spots and some not so bright spots. It hasn’t been extremely consistent, but that doesn’t mean the team cannot get everything back on track.”