SBD/Issue 124/SportsBusiness Daily Exclusives

SBJ/SBD On The Ground In Maui

SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Liz Mullen was in Maui to cover the
NFL Players Association’s annual meeting.

(Note: Maui is six hours behind Eastern time.)
 

Retired players join exec committee as nonvoting members

Player reps passed a resolution to include two retired players on the union's executive committee, and another calling for each of the 32 NFL locker rooms to elect a player to speak out on labor and collective-bargaining agreement issues, as the union wrapped up its annual meeting today.

Under a resolution proposed by New Orleans Saints quarterback and executive committee member Drew Brees that was approved unanimously, two retired players will join the 10 active members of the committee, which runs the business of the union between meetings of the board of player reps. They will be nonvoting members.

One of the two retired players will be the president of the NFLPA's Retired Players Steering Committee. The person now holding that position is Jean Fugett, an attorney and journalist and a former tight end for the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.

For the first time, the NFLPA was holding its annual retired players meeting at the same time as its meeting for active players. More than 100 active players, including player reps and alternate player reps for each team, attended the meetings. They were joined today by nearly 200 former NFL players.

With the union facing a possible lockout in 2011, player reps also voted to create a new spokesman position for each team. The spokesman for each locker room would be able to address questions from the local media who cover the club.

— Liz Mullen, 8:55 p.m. ET, 3/15


Lockout talk

The players at the annual meeting seem to have already achieved unity on one thing: the belief that the owners plan to lock them out when the CBA expires next March.

“We know the deal,” said Houston Texans player rep Chester Pitts. “We are prepared or are preparing for what is on the horizon, and what is on the horizon is the fact that owners plan to lock us out.”

Chicago Bears alternate player rep Rashied Davis said all players at the meeting believe a lockout is coming. “Everyone believes it. It’s not a strike. It’s a lockout," Davis said. "The owners are the ones. We want to play. That is what the players want to do. Owners don’t want to let us play, so they are planning to lock us out."

Executive committee member Mike Vrabel said: “You prepare for it just like you prepare for a long and grueling season. ... We are preparing for the same thing with the lockout.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, asked for a response, said by e-mail Monday morning, "The goal of ownership is to negotiate an agreement."

Union sources acknowledged that its leadership was discussing strategy for a lockout, but no player or source would reveal any details, no surprise since labor strategy is usually kept private for tactical reasons.

The NFLPA says the league is asking that players take an 18 percent reduction in salaries (a figure the league disputes), and players say they are not prepared to accept that without being shown some proof of why they should. The NFL, unlike the NBA, has not shown the union profit and loss statements for the clubs or the league.

Pitts said NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith has “driven the point home” that if the NFL were to show players proof of owners struggling financially, the players might be willing to take a serious look at their proposals. “But they have refused to show us the financials to that effect,” Pitts said. “How do you negotiate on a good-faith basis? If you are negotiating, bring all the information to the table and let’s get a deal done.”

— Liz Mullen, 11:05 a.m. ET, 3/15
 

Votes ahead on today's agenda

NFL player reps are expected to consider several resolutions today, including one that would require agents to advise their players to prepare financially for a lockout, a source said.

The reps also may vote on a resolution that calls for each team to pick a player to act as a spokesman on CBA and labor issues, the source said. Voting is expected to take place later today. The source requested anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak publicly on union business.

Players here consider a lockout when the CBA expires next March as more a probability than a possibility. "All of us expect a lockout," said Arizona Cardinals cornerback Ralph Brown, the team's player rep. "I think we would be very negligent if we didn't."

The annual meeting will end Monday, with the first joint session between active players and retired players. More than 100 players are here, including player reps and two alternates (in most cases) from all 32 clubs.

The meetings have started early — about 7 a.m. — and have ended after 4 p.m. Maui time for the past three days. Players are being briefed on issues surrounding the NFL CBA and the labor talks, and also got a briefing on NFL v. American Needle, said Pete Kendall, a retired player who is acting as the permanent player representative on the union’s negotiating committee.

“The mission is clearly to inform the larger board of player reps of the labor talks and what the issues are,” Kendall said during a lunch break. Players have been meeting both in small groups and in general sessions throughout the past three days.

“We usually don’t have to ask for comments,” Kendall said. “Guys are very involved in this process, and they want to share their comments and hear other players’ input.”

— Liz Mullen, 8:50 p.m. ET, 3/14


Talking with newly re-elected player president Mawae

Two years ago, NFLPA executive committee member Kevin Mawae came to the annual meeting with a plan to step away from some of his union duties so he could spend more time with his family. Instead, he was elected president.

This year Mawae came to the same hotel in Maui with a determination to keep the job, as the league and NFL players face the first real possibility of a work stoppage in 20 years.

“You don’t change leaders in the middle of a war,” Mawae said in an
interview Saturday afternoon at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui, where he was elected to a second two-year term.

Mawae, a center for the Tennessee Titans who came into the league in 1994, ran against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, the youngest member of the NFLPA’s executive committee — whom player reps admire for his intelligence and poise, and who has been a friend and ally of Mawae’s. Both gave short speeches before players elected Mawae.

“I think [Mawae] won because of his knowledge, his expertise and
experience,” said Ralph Brown, Arizona Cardinals cornerback and player rep. Many players here hold both Foxworth and Mawae in high regard and believe that Foxworth may make a very good future president, Brown said, but the need for stability won out.

“They are very close and they promised to each other before they
ran … that they were going to stay together and stay united,” Brown
added, saying that both Mawae and Foxworth told player reps as much after the election.

Two years ago, Mawae won his first term as president by defeating Brian Dawkins, a close friend of outgoing player President Troy Vincent. Multiple sources told SportsBusiness Journal that at that meeting Vincent supporters attempted to overthrow Executive Director Gene Upshaw as head of the union, a charge Vincent has denied. Sources also said former Upshaw asked Mawae to run for the position because he saw Dawkins as a Vincent supporter.

Mawae would not talk about the details of what happened in March 2008, but said, “Gene didn’t ask me to run. I did it because I didn’t like the way things were going down.”

Upshaw died unexpectedly in August 2008 and DeMaurice Smith was elected executive director at the annual meeting last year.

“After I have been though some of the stuff that took place and Gene passed away … I realized there was so much more at stake in the game right now, especially going into this uncapped year and the labor situation," Mawae said.

The league has begun a year without a salary cap or a salary floor, leading up to the expiration of the CBA next March. “I certainly know that in the last 17 years, this is the toughest situation that the union has ever faced,” Mawae said.

Although NFL owners at the negotiation table are not telling players they plan to lock them out, the league’s actions say otherwise, Mawae said. “You don’t hire a lockout guru because you want a deal,” he said, referring to the NFL’s decision to hire Proskauer Rose attorney Bob Batterman, who advised the NHL during its lockout. Mawae also pointed to the NFL’s request that coaches to take pay cuts if there is a lockout.

Mawae said no one lobbied him to stay on as president and he didn’t lobby players to re-elect him. But with the real possibility of a lockout in March 2011, Mawae expressed what he sees as an obligation to see the job through. “It’s a fight I wanted to take to the end.”

— Liz Mullen, 11:30 p.m. ET, 3/13
 

Four new names for executive committee

The NFLPA board of player representatives elected Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Sean Morey and Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters as the four new members of the NFLPA executive committee.

The 10-member executive committee runs the business of the NFLPA between meetings of the board of player reps, which is made up of representatives of the 32 NFL clubs.

Batch, Fujita, Morey and Waters replace Keenan McCardell, Kevin Carter, Donovin Darius and Mark Bruener, who had to give up their seats because they did not play in the NFL last year. McCardell is the new wide receivers coach for the Washington Redskins.

Sources said the other members of the executive committee — Drew Brees, Brian Dawkins, Domonique Foxworth, Tony Richardson, Jeff Saturday and Mike Vrabel — were re-elected to their seats.

— Liz Mullen, 6:40 p.m. ET, 3/13


Hail to the chief?

Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae has been re-elected as president
of the NFLPA, sources said. He’ll serve a two-year term.

Mawae, emerging from one of the hotel meeting rooms where the voting was taking place, would not confirm that he had been elected. "That's what I heard," he said. "I can't tell you. It's confidential."

Mawae, who told SportsBusiness Journal on Thursday night that he would "absolutely" seek re-election, was smiling as he tried to avoid a reporter.

— Liz Mullen, 4:35 p.m. ET, 3/13
 

Decision is in the cards

The NFLPA’s licensing and merchandise arm, NFL Players, is expected to make a decision on trading card licensees for the 2010 NFL season sometime in the next week, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Earlier this year NFL Players reportedly decided not to renew its license with Topps but was in discussions with Upper Deck and Panini. A source said that a deal with Panini was close, and that it was possible Topps could get a license after all. The source requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject.

“Earlier this year a decision was made to reduce the number of partners in the trading card category,” Keith Gordon, president of NFL Players, said Friday. “As of today, no deals have been executed and all options remain open.” He declined further comment.

— Liz Mullen, 8:55 a.m. ET, 3/13


Business as a main course, with a side order of history

It was all business and no beach for NFL players wrapped up in today’s all-day meeting in Maui.

The day began with a general session in which NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith gave a state of the union address, and ended with players meeting in small breakout sessions to discuss everything from the business of the union to the history of labor strife to the possibility of a lockout in 2011, sources said.

“We are really united and having a great time learning the business of the sport we play,” said Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals left tackle and the player rep for the team. “We are learning about the history and the business of the game and how to make it even better.”

There has been some speculation in the industry that there could be a struggle for leadership of the union, but “there is none of that going on,” Whitworth said.

Other players emerged relaxed and happy from the meetings, which began at 1 p.m. ET, or 8 a.m. local time, and ended about eight hours later.
Houston Texans offensive lineman and the team’s player rep, Chester Pitts, said, “The entire executive committee, they are almost asleep, they are so relaxed in comparison to what happened last year,” referring to Smith’s election as executive director in 2009.

The meetings today were “very positive, very productive,” Pitts said, adding that he was impressed after hearing a report on NFL Players, the licensing and merchandise arm of the union, which is working to create new revenue streams for the union not tied directly to the NFL.

The approach of NFL Players, formerly Players Inc., “has drastically changed,” Pitts said, calling the new strategy “pro-activity, not re-activity.”

Two members of the NFLPA’s Retired Players Steering Committee, Jean Fugett and Nolan Harrison, also attended the meeting. Fugett said the players talked about the history of the union, including strikes of the past. “It’s an education … just about how tough negotiations can be and how tough it was in the past,” he said.

Players are expected to hold elections for player president and the executive committee Saturday, a vote that will determine who leads the union into the uncertainty of the next two years.

The NFL CBA expires in March 2011 and the union says the league is asking for an 18 percent rollback in player compensation, a figure the league disputes. If there is no deal by March, the league could lock the players out.

Players here are preparing to build solidarity for what lies ahead. Leaving the meeting, Chicago Bears wide receiver and alternate player rep Rashied Davis said, “We are all one team.”

— Liz Mullen, 10:20 p.m. ET, 3/12
 

Meeting begins with briefing on union business

The NFLPA opened its annual meeting this morning with a general session in which members were briefed on union business, including an overview of NFL Players, the union's licensing and merchandise arm, sources said.

A review of union business is the standard opening for the meeting. Last year was different because of the vote on a new executive director. The general session was held after DeMaurice Smith was elected.

Smith is expected to give a speech to player reps later this morning, a source said. The election of the president and the 10-member executive committee will be Saturday.

The mood is much more relaxed than in 2009, when Smith was elected after a contentious race for the top executive position. Last year the meeting rooms where the candidates met with players were cordoned off and security guards patrolled the hallways, while outside unseasonably cold and rainy weather reigned in Maui. This year the ropes and guards are gone, and it's a sunny, warm day.

— Liz Mullen, 3:30 p.m. ET, 3/12


Mawae unsure whether he'll face challenge

NFLPA player President Kevin Mawae confirmed Thursday evening that the union expects to hold elections Saturday for player president and executive committee members to lead the union through the expiration date of the NFL CBA.

Asked whether he intends to run for the seat again, Mawae, the Tennessee Titans center who was elected to his first two-year term in 2008, said, "Absolutely." Asked whether he expects to face any opposition, he said, "I won't know until the day of the elections."

"We have a lot of things to get done" at the meeting, Mawae said. Among them are discussing the CBA negotiations and holding the first joint meeting of active and retired NFLPA members.

The union’s executive committee met Thursday evening at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui. The 10-player committee also gathered before the opening of the meeting of player reps last year.

Members were coy about what was being discussed. Asked whether he was attending the meeting last night as he walked toward the conference room where it was being held, executive committee member Mark Bruener said, "I am going to the rest room."

— Liz Mullen, 9:10 a.m. ET, 3/12


New year, new mission

 

As the NFL Players Association opens its annual meeting in Maui today, the players union won’t be electing a new leader, as it did here in 2009. The new mission: Unite and prepare for the possibility of a lockout when the collective-bargaining agreement expires in 2011.

Last year the meeting was dominated by the surprise selection of Washington, D.C., lawyer DeMaurice Smith to succeed the late Gene Upshaw as executive director. This year, the union will hold what may be its last annual meeting before the CBA expires. The NFL can lock players out after the labor deal expires in early March, and the players union has historically held the meeting in mid-March.

Among the news that may come out of this year’s gathering, being held at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in the Wailea area of Maui, is the election of a president and a new executive committee to oversee the union during the time that the CBA expires.

It is not clear if anyone will challenge player President Kevin Mawae, but four members of the 10-member executive committee — Keenan McCardell, Donovin Darius, Mark Bruener and Kevin Carter — are not expected to seek re-election since they did not play in the NFL last year. The union's constitution says players may not stand for office if they have not played in the league for one year.

Both the president and the executive committee members serve two-year terms, and that group runs the business of the union between meetings of the board of player reps, which is made up of representatives of the 32 NFL clubs. The player reps and alternates were elected by their teammates during the season last year.

Additionally, players are expected to consider resolutions, sources said, including resolutions aimed at uniting the NFLPA, including possibly requiring players, NFLPA-certified agents and retired players to act in the best interests of the union.

It will also be the first time that the NFLPA holds its annual meeting for its retired players at the same time as the active players’ meetings. Members of the NFLPA's retired players group will be staying at the neighboring Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa.

Last year, the four candidates vying for the executive director's job, former player presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, athlete attorney David Cornwell and Smith, stayed at the Grand Wailea, about a half-mile from the Fairmont, where the active players are staying. The two groups are expected to have a joint session sometime during the meeting.

Although players face a real possibility of a lockout next year, the meeting is not expected to be as tense at it was last year. Smith won the election on the first ballot, but it was a contentious race for the job, which Upshaw held for 25 years until his unexpected death in August 2008. The meeting began with the expectation that former player president Vincent, who recently took a job as vice president of player development with the NFL, would win the position.

With the potential of a work stoppage on the horizon, it is expected that the player leaders will focus on building unity. "It's going to be a pep rally, isn't it?" remarked one knowledgeable industry observer.

— Liz Mullen, 8:45 a.m. ET, 3/12

 

 

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