In 2009, DeMaurice Smith left law firm Patton Boggs to become the first NFL-outsider to run the NFL Players’ Association. He rapidly became a power player in the potential NFL lock-out slated for March, when the players’ collective bargaining agreement with the NFL expires. As NFLPA executive director, Smith is pushing hard for ballers’ interests. Fortunately for the players, the former attorney has experience playing hardball in negotiations.

Smith’s selection to his current post caused controversy. The union has only had three other directors in its more than 40 year history, and all had experience working for the NFL. Though the former attorney came on as an NFL rookie, he has been dominating another field — the field of law — for several decades. The 46-year-old has practice representing Fortune 500 companies, and experience working alongside now-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

DeMaurice Smith is making history … by fighting for football players’ interests against NFL owners, which may lead to the first season without a Super Bowl in more than 40 years. The current negotiations center on the share of the NFL’s annual $8 billion revenue that players take home; right now, it’s nearly 60 percent and Smith is trying to keep it that way, against owners who want the number closer to 40 percent. When player Chad Ochocinco asked Smith in January 2010 the chances, on a scale of 1 to 10, that there’d be a lockout in 2011, Smith replied — “I’d put it at about a 14.”

What’s next for DeMaurice?

Aside from current negotiations, Smith has his eye on the long game for his players. Ensuring the highest quality of health care, and career transition assistance, the NFLPA attempts to ensure success for any player who joins the NFL family.

What inspires DeMaurice?

My grandfather preached well into his eighties. He was the grandson of a slave named Grandmother Hines and I see her picture on my desk every day. His son was one of 14 kids raised in the Jim Crow south on a sharecroppers farm,” Smith told theGrio. “A family who grew up sharing shoes and working another person’s land for food and being unable to go to school full time because of their obligation to mutually support each other is one generation away from me. My mother shared the same fight to put herself through school and to raise herself virtually alone. It is one generation away from me. Yet, they succeeded without bitterness. It is inspirational.

On black history …

“Building our history can never be a “passive” role for any person or executive. We will create the history our children will stand upon to make their own history,” Smith told theGrio. “The diversity of the NFL is that history, the empowerment of our businessmen to seize the reins of their own destiny is that history, expanding our influence as men and women in our community is that history, and never forgetting the sacrifices of those who made this possible both in and outside of football is that history.”

A little-known fact …

Gene Upshaw directed the NFLPA from 1983-2008. He’s the only former player to have held the post, as well as the only African-American to head the union other than Smith.

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