SBJ/20080915/This Week's News

More names draw attention for NFLPA post

New names have begun to surface as potential successors to NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw three weeks after his death, including former NFL players Dave Duerson, Jamir Miller and Mike Kenn, all of whom were active in the union, and attorneys David Cornwell and Fred Nance.

“I will confirm I did get a couple of calls with people associated with the players union on the subject,” said Nance, managing director of the Cleveland office of international law firm Squire Sanders, personal attorney to LeBron James and a finalist for the NFL commissioner opening that ultimately went to Roger Goodell.

It was not clear who or how many other potential candidates had been contacted.

“While it is probably not practical for me to consider it, I will observe this is a critical, watershed juncture in the history of the relationship between the National Football League and NFL players.”

Cornwell, who represents many athletes in legal matters, including New Orleans running back Reggie Bush, said, “My present intention … is to continue to work on behalf of NFL players” through his private law firm.

Attempts to reach Duerson, a former Chicago Bears safety who has been a trustee on the NFLPA’s retirement board, and Kenn, a former Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman, former chairman of the Fulton County (Ga.) Commission and former NFLPA player president, for comment were not successful.

But Miller, a former All-Pro linebacker who was an NFLPA player representative, sent out an e-mail to NFLPA player reps saying that he is officially campaigning for the job. “I am running,” said Miller, in a phone interview last week, making him perhaps the only potential candidate to come right out and say he was actively pursuing the job.

Former NFLPA player presidents Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent and former union executive committee member Robert Smith, whose names first emerged in the press soon after Upshaw’s death Aug. 20, continue to be considered leading player candidates, sources said.

As some names are added to the list of potential candidates, others fall off. NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler; Doug Allen, who formerly ran the NFLPA’s marketing arm and is now the Screen Actors Guild national executive director; Ray Anderson, NFL executive vice president of football operations and a former agent; and current MLB Players Association general counsel Michael Weiner have all said they will not pursue the job.

Weiner said in an e-mail, “At least as of today, I already have a job, and it keeps me pretty busy. I’m a no.”

Allen said, “I have a job that I love and intend to keep and I have a contract.”

NFLPA acting executive director and longtime general counsel Richard Berthelsen, 63, said last week that he has told the executive committee he will not run because the players need an executive director who can stay on the job for 10 years.

Berthelsen is part of a search committee that was formed by the union and includes NFLPA President Kevin Mawae, and executive committee members Donovin Darius, Domonique Foxworth, Tony Richardson, Jeff Saturday and Mike Vrabel.

“Their first job will be to select a search firm and then work with the search firm to narrow a list of candidates down to a reasonable number to present to the player reps at their March meeting,” Berthelsen said, declining to comment further. Player representatives from the 32 teams elect the executive director.The list of potential candidates could expand greatly if the search committee instructs the search firm to cast a wide net, said Cathy Griffin, a sports and entertainment executive search consultant. But “if the search committee says, ‘We want a former NFL player who has a certain professional background,’ and they are not open to anyone else, that is what you are going to get.”

Many players think Upshaw’s successor should be a former player, as Upshaw was. Former NFL players Vincent would not comment (see adjacent story) and Armstrong and CAA Sports agent Tom Condon, who has also been mentioned by the media as a potential candidate, did not return calls for comment.

Smith said, “I am not campaigning for the job, nor am I planning on taking it. I wouldn’t say that I am not interested in it, but to me, the most important thing is that the proper process is in place.”

He added, “I think moving forward, the players shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that it is a player that takes over just because it was a former player that was the most recent executive director.”

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