NFL Players Elect D.C.-Based Lawyer Smith to Head Union

DeMaurice F. Smith was elected NFL Players Association executive director on the player representatives' first ballot, sources familiar with the voting said.
DeMaurice F. Smith was elected NFL Players Association executive director on the player representatives' first ballot, sources familiar with the voting said. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 16, 2009

Washington lawyer DeMaurice F. Smith was voted the executive director of the NFL Players Association last night, the union announced.

Smith was elected on the first ballot by a majority vote of the players who serve as union representatives for the 32 teams, sources familiar with the voting results said. The vote took place at the union's annual meetings in Maui, Hawaii.

Smith is a D.C.-based partner at the firm Patton Boggs with no significant previous NFL ties. He succeeds the late Gene Upshaw.

The other finalists were former players Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong and lawyer David Cornwell. Vincent finished second in the voting, followed by Cornwell and then Armstrong, according to one source, who added that some players were pushing after the vote for Smith to hire Vincent as a top union executive.

Smith, 45, was born in Washington and remains an enthusiastic Redskins fan. He grew up in Glenarden and attended Riverdale Baptist High School.

He ran track at Cedarville University, a 3,000-student Baptist college in southwestern Ohio, and then went to law school at the University of Virginia. Smith was a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in the District for 10 years. He served as counsel to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., then the deputy U.S. attorney general. He also was a member of the board of directors of the foundation formed by former Redskins Charles Mann and Art Monk.

Smith was identified by the union's search committee as a candidate because he could bring fresh ideas from outside the sport. He compiled a detailed business plan for the union and presented it to the players' ruling executive committee during the search process. He said during a recent interview that an outsider actually might be better equipped to handle the upcoming labor negotiations with the sport's franchise owners.

He said during that interview that the NFL remains a healthy business even in these trying economic times. He said he would, if elected, try to build on the economic gains made by the union during Upshaw's tenure as executive director. But he also indicated there are things the organization can do better. Smith said the union has a moral obligation to take care of retired players, many of whom have been critical of the league and the union in recent years for allegedly failing to address their medical and financial needs.

Upshaw died last August, only days after having pancreatic cancer diagnosed. Smith now faces daunting tasks in trying to reunite the players after a contentious search process, and in readying the union for a possible labor confrontation with the owners.

The owners voted last year to exercise a reopener clause in their labor agreement with the players, ending the deal two years early. The agreement now expires after the 2010 season, and the 2009 season is the final one in the deal with a salary cap. Upshaw predicted before his death that the owners would consider a lockout of the players in 2011.

No Progress in Denver

A meeting Saturday reportedly failed to resolve the differences between Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler and new coach Josh McDaniels. The Denver Post reported that Cutler and McDaniels exchanged words during the meeting, also attended by General Manager Brian Xanders and Cutler's agent, Bus Cook.

Cutler has expressed his unhappiness that the Broncos considered recent trade offers that would have put former New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel in Denver and sent Cutler elsewhere.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen reportedly said yesterday that the rift between Cutler and McDaniels could lead to Cutler's departure from the club.

"I'm very disappointed," Bowlen said, according to the Denver Post. "I'm disappointed in the whole picture, not just disappointed that we might lose our star quarterback."

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