The New Boss
Seven long months after the sudden departure of Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA finally selected DeMaurice Smith as its new Executive Director at its Annual Meeting in Hawaii last week. Few of you could have missed all the recent coverage on the run-up to the election including all of the sideline drama on some of the candidates like Troy Vincent.
To the new Executive Director, we extend our congratulations and welcome aboard! All of us hope that with a new face and a new attitude, everyone – current and retired players alike – might look forward with more optimism than what they have experienced over the last 25 years.
An olive branch might be in order as a gesture of good faith: One obvious and easy peace offering would be to immediately drop the appeal on the Players Inc. lawsuit. Clearly, the NFLPA/Players Inc. put themselves into a win-at-all-costs situation in carrying on with Gene Upshaw’s old policy of neglecting the retired players. Dropping the appeal would be a complete win-win for everyone. Except the lawyers. While we know that Mr. Smith’s a powerful Washington attorney, we also understand that he’s proven himself to be a skilled and pragmatic negotiator based on everything we’ve learned about him so far. Knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em is a crucial part of negotiating and leadership. By closing off that sad chapter and allowing the retired players to move forward in collecting royalties that have already been long past-due, the new Executive Director would go a long way in getting past the old antagonistic approach that caused a lot of needless conflict. And saving $5 – $10 million in legal fees to the likes of Jeffrey Kessler & Co. wouldn’t hurt either. Kessler’s firm stands to make at least that much again in continuing the fight with the retired players for another couple of years, so he really has nothing to lose personally. The quickest path for the new Executive Director to begin healing the rift with retired players and moving forward would be to cut its losses and simply acknowledge mistakes of his predecessor. And on the worst-case-scenario side of the appeal, there’s something Kessler would certainly never point out: It’s even possible that the next trial could end up even more favorably for the players so the $28 million payout might look like a bargain in hindsight a couple of years from now. (Somehow, we don’t believe that Kessler’s working on a contingency basis…) Keeping someone on your team that no one seems to like sends a bad message. Dropping the appeal would prove to be a complete win-win for both sides.
The retired players would also like to offer their own olive branch by giving Mr. Smith a platform to state his position on the issues in his own words. Pragmatic optimism might be the new approach in getting things done. There are actually a lot of very unique opportunities facing DeMaurice Smith at this moment and his decisions may change a lot of things in ways that many people might never have imagined as recently as last year.
So with that, Bob Grant and his fellow organizers for the upcoming Independent Summit for Retired NFL Players to be held in Las Vegas from May 28 – 31 would like to formally invite Mr. Smith to meet and speak directly to the retired players. This is an opportunity that his predecessor, Gene Upshaw, never considered in his entire tenure as Executive Director.