NEW YORK — DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said here Thursday that it is appropriate for the sport’s leaders to have “a broad discussion” about the Washington Redskins’ nickname with interested parties.
Smith, speaking after the union’s annual news conference during Super Bowl week, said it is important for those in the sport to avoid “intentionally offending anyone.” But he stopped short of saying the team’s name should be changed.
“I grew up a Redskin fan and I grew up in Washington,” Smith said at the Super Bowl media center at a Times Square hotel in Manhattan. “And as we’ve said before, I think we’re in a better world if we’re not intentionally offending anyone. I think that any time we engage in a broad discussion, whether it be with fans or other interested parties about how to do our jobs better, and that might include the Redskin name, I think that’s positive.”
Some Native American groups have called the team’s nickname offensive and have said it should be changed.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and other team officials have said the name is not intended to be disparaging and they don’t plan to change it.
NFL officials met in October with representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation, which has expressed opposition to the team’s name. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league must be sensitive to the concerns of those with opposing views.
Smith’s comment on the issue came after the completion of a news conference in which he declined to take a position on a possible expansion of the NFL’s playoff field, saying the league has not made a formal proposal on the matter. He also said the league and union are “98 percent” done in reaching an agreement to implement testing of players for human growth hormone but remain at odds on the issue of independent appeals for certain categories of violations.
(UPDATE: 6:32 p.m.) Goodell and several owners have mentioned the possibility of the league increasing the postseason field from 12 to 14 teams. The move would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners. Goodell has said it probably would not take effect, if ratified, until the 2015 season at the earliest. It would mean that only one team in each conference would receive a first-round playoff bye, rather than the current two, and there would be six first-round postseason games league-wide instead of the current four. Such a change potentially could be accompanied by a reduction of the preseason.
Smith declined to say Thursday what the union’s stance would be on such a measure. The union opposed a previous proposal by the owners to lengthen the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team while cutting back the preseason.
“We have not seen a proposal from the league to expand the playoffs or to make any changes in the preseason,” Smith said during Thursday’s news conference. “If and when we do, we’ll have a position.”
The league and union agreed as part of their 2011 labor deal that players would be blood-tested for HGH. But they first had to agree to details of the testing program. They’ve been unable to do that and testing has remained on hold for three entire seasons since.
Smith said Thursday that the testing program is basically in place but differences remain over players’ appeal rights.
“The HGH policy is done,” Smith said. “It’s been done. The drug policy overall is 98 percent done. We both agreed to conduct the population study for HGH. We agreed that the results of that population study would set a decision limit with scientific rigor about the level of normal HGH in our players’ body. We discussed and agreed upon what the fines would be or discipline would be. The only two remaining issues on our drug policy is in the area of neutral arbitration. For the first time, there is neutral arbitration in every aspect of the proposed drug policy. And that is something that is clearly something that the players fought for and fought hard for.
“The two exceptions that the league wants to that general statement of neutral arbitration is in two instances, one in which a player has been adjudicated either criminally or civilly as violating the drug policy, or one where the suspension is not based on a positive test but based upon evidence that the player has engaged in a violation of the drug policy.”
Smith praised the league’s investigation of the bullying allegations involving Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. He contrasted it to the league’s previous handling of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
“The manner in which the league has conducted this investigation has been in the manner that we believe is consistent and the right way to do it,” Smith said. “When we went through the issue of bounty, we raised a number of concerns about who conducted the investigation, whether it was impartial, the manner in which it was conducted, the statements that were put out before the investigation even started. This is one where there is a tremendous level of cooperation between the players’ union and the league on this issue because I do believe that we both have an interest in making sure that our workplaces are… safe and conducive to best practices.”
Smith did express some concern about defensive players’ complaints that the league’s prohibitions on hits to the head of defenseless players have forced them to aim instead at opponents’ knees.
“I think that one of the ramifications of any rule, even if it’s a rule that we all agree makes sense, is seeing how that rule plays out and you may have actually unintended consequences of a well-intentioned rule,” Smith said. “Do I also believe that the fines that come from that also present or could result in an unintended consequence? Yes. We’ve had conversations with the league this year about what we believe are ways to change that. I think that it’s important to simply embrace that we’re trying to keep our players safe. If we are doing things that have unintended consequences, then we should try to figure out how to change those things