Football legend Emmitt Smith with his wife and five children. From left: EJ, 13; Rheagan, 16; Elijah, 4; Smith and wife Pat; Skylar, 11; Jasmin, 19. (Photo courtesy Emmitt Smith)
NFL hall of famer Emmitt Smith played football for 15 seasons, won three super bowls, holds countless records, and even took home the trophy in season two of Dancing with the Stars. But his proudest achievements are his kids – all five of them, between the ages of 4 and 19. Smith spoke to Yahoo Parenting on behalf of Quaker and Fuel Up to Play 60, the nation’s largest in-school wellness program, about his smart trick to get his kids ready to go back to school (hint: it’s inspired by Smith’s NFL days), the regret he doesn’t want them to have, and if he’ll let them play football, too.
You have five children between the ages of 4 and 19 —that’s a big job! How do you juggle being a family man with your busy career?
I don’t do it all by myself, that’s the wonderful thing about it. My wife handles a lot of the scheduling, and we have support who help us make sure we’ve got everything organized with the kids when it comes to parent-teacher conferences and their school activities and their after-school activities — things like soccer, basketball, football, cheerleading, gymnastics. Just getting it all on the calendar is a big job, and then understanding what we can be at, what we maybe can’t be at, and figuring out how to prioritize.
Emmitt Smith with wife Patricia and four of his five kids. (Photo: Instagram/Pat Smith)
With five children, I imagine it’s tricky to carve out individual time with each one. How do you make sure all your kids feel special, and like they’ve had their own focused time with you?
That is a task, making them each feel individually special. There are moments throughout the day that we try to have individual time with all of the kids. There are times that we are successful, and time that we are not. As a father, I try to be home with them in the morning and for dinner, and to have one-on-one time to either put one to bed, or help with homework. We try to take advantage of the time we have, even if it’s quick moments in the car, because alone time is important. Plus, we want every minute we’ve got. They don’t stay little for long.
At this point, all your kids are in school – from pre-school on up. Do you have strategies for winding down the summer and getting them all ready for a new schedule as back-to-school approaches?
We take what I would classify as a sports approach. We have our pre-season the week before we start back at school. That consists of trying to get our kids on the proper sleep schedule, getting them used to waking up, eating breakfast and getting out of the house and being active throughout the day. You can’t do it the night before the first day of school, especially when your kids have been up long past 11 pm all summer. They love staying up all night long and saying “I stayed up till 11 o’clock!”
Emmitt Smith says parents should let kids explore whatever sports interest them, but have their best interests — and safety — at heart. (Photo:Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
You mentioned that your kids play a ton of sports, including football. You’ve recently applauded the NFL for trying to do more to protect players from head injuries, but this is a major worry for a lot of parents whose kids want to play football. Was that ever a concern when it came to your own kids?
What I’ve come to learn is that a child has to choose their path, and they have to choose it without regrets. Me as a parent, I have to put my fears aside and let my kids decide for themselves if they like a sport or love it or hate it. If they don’t try they will have regrets. My job is to monitor injuries and say when enough is enough. I have my child’s best interest at heart – and that’s not the way it used to be. When I was growing up, my parents had other people instructing them when it came to me playing football, and sometimes the individual giving them advice was working for the organization and didn’t necessarily have my best interests at heart. They had the organization’s interests at heart. With my experience, it’s for me to say that one, two, three, four concussions is enough.
With sports, it’s not enough to like a sport, you have to love it. All the stupid stuff you have to go through to play it – whether it’s playing in the heat, or sleeping in strange beds, or getting up early for practice – you have to really love it to pursue it.
During this year’s Super Bowl there was a noticeably bigger emphasis, during the commercials at least, on a father’s role. What did you think of that?
I was extremely happy to see it, because fathers play a major role. Just like moms play a huge role in what they do for kids. In a society where so many kids are growing up with single parents or in blended families, there are so aspects of parenting that get swept under the rug, like dads’ roles. It’s why we see the NFL players saying “Hi mom!” You almost never see them waving to dad! But it’s important for fathers to be in kids lives. It’s important for me to be in my kids’ lives. That is my true legacy – helping them become the best individuals they can be. Sports is my gift, but my kids are my legacy.
Emmitt Smith, father of five, says his best advice to fathers is to simply be involved. (Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
With five kids, you must have amassed a lot of fatherly wisdom. What is your advice for other dads?
Just be involved in your children’s lives — 100 percent, one way or another. If you’re busy, you have to carve out some time. And look to other parents for tips. It’s about taking best practices and utilizing techniques and tricks and applying them to their own lives. We don’t always have the right answers, but we can learn from each other.