NFL Players' Union Head Smith Faces Full Slate in His First Term

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On his first full day as executive director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice F. Smith said he expected to begin labor negotiations with the sport's franchise owners soon and indicated he's hopeful a deal will be struck that would avoid a work stoppage in two years.

Smith, the D.C. lawyer elected Sunday as the successor to the late Gene Upshaw, also said he plans to work with retired players to address concerns that created conflicts between them and the union in recent years.

But it wasn't all talk on Smith's first day. He ran a meeting with the players' ruling executive committee and, according to a source, he has asked former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy to serve as a liaison between the union and the league on player-related issues.

The threat of a labor confrontation with the owners is the biggest issue Smith will face early in his tenure, and he said from Hawaii in a conference call with reporters the players will be ready for a tussle if that's what the owners want.

"There isn't a day where I don't hope for peace," Smith said. "But at the same time, there isn't a day where we won't prepare for war."

Smith reiterated what he said recently -- that he feels the union and current players have "a moral obligation" to address the needs of retired players. Smith said the transition team he's forming will include former players.

"We want them to be a part of our team," Smith said.

He also wants Dungy on his team. Dungy, a former NFL player, retired as the Colts' coach after this past season. It's not clear if he'll accept Smith's offer.

Smith, a partner at the firm Patton Boggs, was elected on the first ballot Sunday in a vote by the players who serve as union representatives for the 32 NFL teams. The union announced Smith will serve a three-year term.

"In the end, it was a very easy decision for all of us," New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a member of the executive committee, said during the conference call.

The vote was taken at the union's annual meetings in Maui, Hawaii. Smith and members of the executive committee participated in yesterday's conference call just before beginning an early-morning meeting.

"We're very, very pleased to move forward with who we see as a leader who can lead us in the right direction, right now," said Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, another executive committee member.

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