Irv Muchnick Reports from the Santa Clara Sports Law Symposium

Sep 8, 2011

Posted with the express consent of Irv Muchnick:

Notes on NFLPA Boss DeMaurice Smith at Santa Clara Sports Law Symposium

Published September 8th, 2011

Today I attended the Second Annual Sports Law Symposium at Santa Clara University Law School. I wanted to see the advertised panel on concussions, including the keynote speech by DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association.
Dissident NFL retirees, who don’t like the union’s performance in safeguarding their health and interests, say Smith no-showed his scheduled appearance at last year’s Santa Clara symposium. See today’s post - click HERE.
I enjoyed the opportunity to meet in person for the first time symposium panelist John Hogan, the Atlanta attorney who has done valuable work representing retired players (plus others from all walks of life) on disability issues. The symposium’s proceedings book includes a comprehensive and lucid paper by Hogan entitled “Concussions, Brain Injury and NFL Disability.” I highly recommend the article which is linked at the Dave Pear post listed above.
Regarding De Smith, I was disappointed when the organizers of the event canceled the public question-and-answer portion of the concussion session, explaining that the symposium was behind schedule. This had the unfortunate effect of giving it the feel of a rubber chicken circuit rather than a colloquy.
Smith prefaced his keynote speech with some lame jokes about his Baptist preacher forebears, and asked indulgence to deviate from the concussion prompt and address the issue in the total context of “justice and fairness” for athletes. That actually was not a bad frame at all for the discussion, and it led to the panel’s most interesting moments when the special guest, football great Jim Brown, gently grilled Smith on the NFLPA’s second- and third-class treatment of retirees. Appropriately, Smith countered by citing improvements in this area in the new collective bargaining agreement. Some of these, such as the redistribution of hundreds of millions of new “Legacy Fund” dollars, remain vague in the details, but they will certainly be improvements, even if still inadequate.
My own No. 1 purpose in attending this event was to confront Smith about a cause I have been championing, essentially all by myself, for months: the idea that the joint NFL-NFLPA disability review board must reopen all rejected claims during the board tenure of the late Dave Duerson. Decisions during that period were fundamentally tainted by the participation of a player advocate who not only had publicly downplayed the link between football and mental disability in Congressional testimony, but also wound up committing suicide – whereupon he was found to have had chronic traumatic encephelopathy himself.
With the announcement that the concussion panel was skipping the public microphone, I joined a gaggle of audience members who pressed Smith at the podium for one-on-one dialogue. (Just ahead of me was Delvin Williams, the 56-year-old former NFL running back. Williams and Smith seemed to be discussing a private matter.)
By the time I got Smith’s ear, he was being hustled out the door to his next appointment. Unburdened of the need to give my Duerson question a lot of background for the benefit of a general audience, I said: “Mr. Smith, picking up from your theme of justice and fairness, can you please tell me whether you think Duerson-reviewed claims should get a second look? Please don’t answer in legalisms – the confidentiality of the review board process, or not knowing exactly how Duerson voted in individual cases or whether his votes made a difference. Isn’t this Fairness 101?”
Smith regurgitated the question but didn’t answer it before we separated.
I am faxing this post to Smith’s office. Of course, I’ll publish any reply I might receive.
Irvin Muchnick is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death (2009) and WRESTLING BABYLON: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal (2007). He is a widely published magazine journalist and has appeared on forums as diverse as Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” and ESPN’s “Up Close.” Muchnick is lead respondent in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case for freelance writers’ rights, Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick.
BeyondChron contributor Irvin Muchnick has launched his new website and blog “Concussion Inc.”. You can also find Irv on Twitter at

3 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. John Hogan
    September 8th, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    John Hogan

    It was a pleasure meeting Irv today.

    Another retired player in attendance was also very disappointed that De did not stick to his topic: concussions, and said that his talk was much like a commencement address. I was also very disappointed that he did not answer the question I asked of him in my talk: Who do they envision benefiting from the new Neuro-Cognitive Benefit as I don’t see it helping many guys. (You have to be vested, under 55 and not on Line-of-Duty or Total & Permanent). That pretty much leaves out all guys who are working. But how do you perform sustained, competitive work if you have a significant neuro-cognitive impairment?

    John Hogan
    Disability Attorney
    Retired Football Player Advocate

  2. Dave Pear
    September 8th, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    Dave Pear

    Thanks John,

    Upshaw’s replacement is nothing more than an empty suit at best. He is useless as far as retired players are concerned – especially to the pre-1993 players.

    Oh well. Like they say, the more things appear to change, the more they remain the same.

    Dave & Heidi Pear

  3. Frederick 'Rick' Hayes
    September 11th, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    During the NFLPA Convention on Maui nearly 2 years ago, De Smith told the Retired Players and their spouses that if they needed critical assistance at any time, to e-mail:

    These e-mails would supposedly go directly to De and a response would be heard within 24 hours. I’m not sure if this address is still active – I would be surprised but I thought I would put this info out to those in immediate need.

    Rick Hayes
    L.A. Rams 1974
    UW Huskies 1969-1973
    UW Huskies