Dallas Cowboys' Emmitt Smith in action against the Washington Redskins on November 20, 1994.
Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated
By Jamie Lisanti
July 07, 2014

At halftime of Super Bowl XXVIII, the Dallas Cowboys trailed the Buffalo Bills by seven, but starting in the third quarter, the Cowboys scored 24 unanswered points to win the game. The Dallas charge was led by running back Emmitt Smith. His 30 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns that day in Atlanta in 1994 are only a fraction of the reason Smith is an eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time Super Bowl champion, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and owner of the NFL record for career rushing yards.

But now, nine years after his retirement from the NFL, Smith is looking to use his renown to help gain recognition for a condition called gout – a type of arthritis that occurs from a buildup of uric acid in the blood – and the cause of the most pain Smith has felt since his playing days.

“The pain was so bad I had to take my shoe off and I couldn’t walk around with a normal step, I had to walk on the outside of my foot,” says Smith of the discomfort he experienced in his right big toe one morning in 2010. As the day went on, the pain level quickly jumped from manageable to intolerable. After a visit to his doctor, Smith thought it was a one-time ailment, but months later he had another attack.

Upon being diagnosed with gout, Smith devised a treatment plan with his doctor and partnered with Takeda Pharmaceuticals to spread awareness for the condition, which affects more than eight million Americans. Edge spoke with the 45-year-old Smith about his condition, diet and of course, football.

Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys relaxing on chair in the pool at his home in Dallas, Texas in 1996.
Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated

On his treatment plan and living with gout

Smith’s football accolades also brought along typical football ailments, but he said nothing compares to the pain he experiences from gout. But with the proper medication, Smith has had fewer flare-ups.

“Once you get past the normal levels of uric acid, you are increasing the opportunity to have flare-ups,” says Smith. “The pain is so intense and localized, and you don’t realize the relief until you get that relief.”

While gout is often linked to red meat, seafood or alcohol consumption, Smith said he hasn’t altered his diet completely and still enjoys his favorite foods, like steak and salmon. “I love to smoke beef or baby back ribs in my smoker,” says Smith. For others dealing with gout, Smith suggests working closely with a doctor to monitor and test out certain medications in order to develop a customized treatment program.   

On the state of running backs in the NFL

Each September, at the start of football season, Smith says his palms start sweating – not because of his desire to play, but to watch. “I enjoy watching the game, especially the first-year guys,” he says. After observing games for years, he says he recognizes how the game has changed, especially for the running back position. He says that he has noticed the difference in quarterbacks’ growth curve, which translates into an offense that is less focused on the ground game. 

“The league is moving towards passing more and they don’t see the value in the running back position as much as they used to,” Smith says. “But the running game gives you the ability to get control of the situation – there’s a point in time where the pass is OK, but there’s also a point where you have to be extremely physical.”

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On his exercise routine

While he doesn’t pick up a football anymore, Smith uses exercise as a way to maintain his health. He uses an activity-tracking device to monitor his steps on a daily basis and also enjoys playing golf.

 “I like to ride bikes – I just completed a 30-mile ride for diabetes for the first time,” says Smith, who scored 175 touchdowns in his career. “I try to ride at least two to three times a week to stay active.”

On concussions and his own wellbeing after 15 years in the league

Smith says he knows for a fact that he had two concussions during his football career: one in high school, and one on Thanksgiving Day 200 against the Minnesota Vikings in Dallas.

“In between those times, I’m sure I’ve been dinged a few times, and getting dinged is sure like a concussion,” says Smith, who started getting a baseline test and head scan for the past few years as a precaution. “You start to hear about players like Tony Dorsett having head trauma and it’s concerning.”

He adds, “Players must listen and understand what they’re getting themselves into before they do it.”

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