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"We recognize that Congress has a legitimate role in a myriad of issues that affect our players, their families, and our fans, beyond just the labor issues," Smith said. In particular, Smith said that he decided to take an aggressive position on head injuries and their lasting effects on players.
"That was an issue that I felt that not only had the NFL not done enough in the past, but we as a union had not done enough in the past," said Smith, who testified at two congressional hearings on the subject over the past few months.
Congress has leverage over the league in several areas, including an antitrust exemption for broadcasting contracts. That exemption, which allows the NFL to sign TV contracts on behalf of all teams, helped to transform the league into the economic powerhouse it is today.
"It's a question of Congress exercising oversight authority that it has, and to ask the right questions given the gifts they give to the National Football League," Smith said. "Our players made the point of saying, the antitrust exemption that the league gets in Congress is a gift. We do think that Congress should be assured that that gift is being used in a way that benefits our fans, our players and the owners."
NFL vice president Joe Browne said in an e-mail that most lawmakers realize that the league has used the exemption to keep games on broadcast TV.
"That benefits NFL fans, players and the clubs," he said. "The players actually benefit the most monetarily since they receive 60 percent of the TV revenue through the labor agreement."
Smith said that he hired his old firm because "they're the best. And one of the reasons I know they're the best is I know that the NFL has looked at them as well."
Browne confirmed that the league interviewed Jonathan Yarowsky, a Patton Boggs partner, for outside lobbying work last year. Yarowsky is one of the Patton Boggs lobbyists now working for the union.
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