Posted on May 23, 2024

Emmitt Smith Ripped Florida for Eliminating All DEI Roles. Here’s Why the NFL Legend Spoke Out.

Jarrett Bell, USA Today, May 20, 2024

Emmitt Smith probably wasn’t the first NFL legend you expected to stick his neck out as such a powerful voice for DEI – diversity, equity and inclusion – as opposition intensifies on many fronts.

Think again.

During a wide-ranging interview with USA TODAY Sports, Smith, 55, passionately doubled down on the scathing statement he issued in March that denounced the elimination of DEI programs at his alma mater, the University of Florida. The school’s action was prompted by a controversial state law passed in 2023 that bans Florida’s public universities and colleges from any spending on DEI.

Smith’s position comes from the thinking that this huge issue is way bigger than himself.

“When I see them destroying DEI for the sake of politics…it’s not even common sense,” Smith said. “This is just sheer out of spite and sheer power.

“At the end of the day, this country was built on people fighting for what is right for everybody, not just a select few. And with that fight, and with the University of Florida being as visible as it is, it irked me. To the fullest. Because I remember the time when our president at the university would stand up and say, ‘Nah, we’re the University of Florida. We’re going to be here a lot longer than you, (Gov.) Ron DeSantis; a lot longer than you, Jeb Bush; we’re going to be here a lot longer than any other governor that tries to push something of this magnitude down the throats of so many Americans and so many Florida citizens.’ To me, that’s a problem.”

What compelled the former Dallas Cowboys star to issue his statement?

“One, being an alumnus and having contributed as much as I did on the football field and to walk away with a University of Florida degree and feeling I’m a part of the university from afar, and still at heart, I was extremely disappointed,” said Smith, who has flourished in the real estate business in the 20 years since his NFL career ended. “Because when I was in college, and everywhere I’ve been, they always talked about leadership…and how we needed to become leaders – especially athletes.”

If that doesn’t provide the sense that one of the Gators’ most famous figures is rather steamed with his school, just ask him to reflect what it might have been like if college football players during his era in the late 1980s had received money from the type of name, image and likeness (NIL) agreements now allowed in college sports.

“Bro, I want my reparations right now from the University of Florida,” Smith said. “I want to send their (expletive) a bill. I want interest on mine. Because I know one thing: When I was in that stadium – and I hate to talk about myself, but the system has forced me to talk about it because we couldn’t get NIL (payments) – running up and down that field with Cedric Smith leading the way with my great offensive linemen blocking for me, when you looked up in those stands you saw a whole lot of E. Smith jerseys up there. E. Smith 22s. You can look at the old videos and see how many jerseys were walking around. And I didn’t receive one red cent.

“So, let’s not talk about dismantling DEI at a time I think DEI happens to be a consequence of NIL. You get one, they take the other one away. It’s strategic.”


{snip} And it’s no wonder that the three-time Super Bowl winner suspects there’s some connection, considering that for the two highest-revenue college sports, Black athletes represented 54% of Division 1 basketball players and 48% of D-1 football players in 2023, according to an NCAA database. Then there’s the apparent movement to eliminate the spirit of DEI on so many levels. Florida is hardly alone. At least 30 states have introduced or passed legislation to restrict or regulate DEI initiatives. And last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that restricted race-conscious college admissions.

Meanwhile, in the corporate world, a growing number of companies have pulled back DEI initiatives that were instituted after the heinous death of George Floyd in 2020.

“All of that went by the wayside,” Smith said, referring to the DEI commitment in some corners of the corporate environment. “In other words, they said, ‘This is for the moment.’ And again, that just goes to show you that they really didn’t mean it. It’s not in their heart to do what’s right. It’s in their heart to keep the system going the way it is. So, anyone making that decision, they were never for it, never for equality. And some of them weren’t doing it before George Floyd. So, what makes you think they are going to do it now? They’re trying to get rid of something that was a pipeline to opening up the opportunities, even for small and minority businesses.”


In a state where Black residents constitute 17% of the population, according to the NAACP, fewer than 5% of the students at the University of Florida are Black. This, against the backdrop of Florida’s flowing athletic revenues. A USA TODAY Sports analysis ranked Florida’s athletic department eighth in the nation during the 2021-22 school year with revenues that exceeded $190.4 million.