BATAVIA NEW YORK - Wearing a tight orange golf shirt that shows off his muscular physique, 52-year-old Bruce Smith is still capable of casting an intimidating presence like he did while setting the NFL career record for sacks.
Looks, however, can be deceiving, the Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame defensive end acknowledged.
“I look good, but I’m in pain every day,” Smith said, while attending former teammate Jim Kelly’s charity golf tournament outside of Buffalo on Monday. “There’s not a day that I’m not in pain: multiple joints and things that I experience on a daily basis. It can be very frustrating sometimes.”
Then there’s his memory.
“You’d probably have to ask my wife about that,” Smith said, when asked if he was experiencing head-injury related symptoms some 13 years after he retired. “I forget a lot of things sometimes.”
At a time when NFL safety concerns are attracting headlines, it’s difficult for Smith to ignore the toll playing 299 games — including playoffs — and registering 200 sacks took on his 193-cm, 119-kg body.
And yet, if he could go back, Smith would do it all over again.
“While I did not know the severity of what continuous head traumas would do to an individual and the mind and so forth and so on, I’m not going to sit here and complain,” Smith said. “I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you it hurts on a daily basis. But I’m very thankful.”
He credited the NFL for establishing rules and introducing equipment in a bid to make the game safer.
Smith also called it important to shed as much light as possible on the issue.
“You just want to know all the facts and the truth, and for some reason or another I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point,” Smith said. “There are some guys that are suffering that we need to make sure that are taken care of.”
The Bills are honoring Smith this year by retiring his No. 78 during a ceremony to be held during their prime-time home-opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 15.
Selected with the first pick in the 1985 draft by Buffalo, Smith was a two-time NFL defensive player of the year during 15 seasons with the Bills. He then played four more years in Washington.
Smith spoke shortly before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the media, while also attending Kelly’s tournament.
Goodell defended the league’s approach to addressing concussion-related concerns.
Aside from introducing 42 rule changes over the past 10 years, Goodell noted the NFL is introducing new helmets and a new playing surface to help reduce the impact of hits.
Last month, a congressional study concluded league officials tried to strong-arm the National Institutes of Health into taking away a project from a researcher the NFL feared was biased.
In recent years, several NFL players have abruptly retired rather than risk experiencing long-term, concussion-related effects.