SBJ/20090126/This Week's News

Congressman: Vincent spoke to letter writers

Leading NFLPA executive director candidate Troy Vincent met or talked with at least two of the four U.S. congressmen who sent a letter to the union and the Department of Labor last month that raised concerns about the search for a successor to the late Gene Upshaw, said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

The question of whether Vincent spurred a congressional inquiry into the search has become a major issue, and sources said that if true it could potentially hurt his chances of getting the executive director job.

Armstrong
Vincent

Moran, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, is not one of the four who signed the letter. His interest was sparked by his daughter, Mary Moran, who runs human resources at the NFLPA and asked her father to look into what prompted the letter. Moran, who forwarded his findings to the union last week, said that when he asked his four colleagues why they sent the letter, “In each case, all mentioned Troy Vincent.”

Vincent, sources said, denied that he had met with the congressmen when he was asked earlier this month by interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen during a candidate interview. Vincent, a former NFLPA player president, is one of five final candidates vying for the post and, along with fellow former NFLPA president Trace Armstrong, is considered a top contender for the job.

The search will move into its next phase when the union’s executive committee questions the remaining candidates in interviews expected to take place sometime after Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It is thought that one or two candidates will be cut; the rest will travel to Maui, where the 32 player representatives will elect the next executive director.

The congressmen who signed the letter are Gregory Meeks of New York, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina,  EdolphusTowns of New York and Bobby Rush of Illinois, all Democrats.

 “I spoke with Congressman Butterfield first,” Moran said, “and he mentioned that Troy was a great guy and his family owned land in [Butterfield’s] district.”

 Meeks said he met with Vincent in Meeks’ office before the letter was sent, Moran said, at which time Vincent asked Meeks to ensure that the process was not discriminatory against a black candidate. Vincent is black. Vincent also asked Meeks not to endorse him, Moran said, recounting his conversation with Meeks.

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran says he passed
his findings along to the union.

Meeks also said, Moran added, that Vincent had communicated to him that Vincent had been the choice of Gene Upshaw to succeed him. Upshaw ran the NFLPA for 25 years before dying unexpectedly in August. Vincent and Upshaw had not been on speaking terms for five months before Upshaw’s death.

Moran said he told Meeks that Meeks may be misinformed about Upshaw and Vincent’s relationship.

Rush, Moran said, replied that he had not had an opportunity to speak with Vincent. Towns, Moran said, told Moran that he had talked with Vincent.

A spokesman for the House Committee on Oversight  and Government Reform, which Towns chairs, denied that Towns had spoken to Vincent specifically about the NFLPA position, but said Meeks had met Vincent in the past.

A spokesman for Butterfield, Ken Willis, said the representative had not met with Vincent and only signed the letter because Meeks asked him to on the floor of the House. A spokeswoman for Rush said she would call back but had not by press time.

Moran wrote up his findings in a memo, which he sent to Berthelsen. Berthelsen then sent the findings to the players executive committee, according to a source.

Berthelsen has declined for months to comment on anything regarding the search process, and he could not be reached on this story late last week.

Mawae
McCardell

 Two members of the executive committee, Kevin Mawae and Keenan McCardell, traveled to Washington last Wednesday to meet with Meeks expressly to find out whether Vincent had met with him, according to multiple sources.

Mawae wouldn’t comment, and McCardell could not be reached.

Sources differed on what Meeks told the duo. One source said that Meeks was very “political,” meaning that he didn’t give a definitive answer, while another said that Meeks denied having met with Vincent before the letter was sent.

Meeks, approached last week, before Moran spoke out, as he walked into his Capitol Hill office, was asked whether he had met or spoken with Vincent. Meeks responded, “I have spoken with former NFL players.” Asked again, specifically, if he had spoken with Vincent, Meeks said, “Not regarding that, the matter you’re referring to.”

It’s unclear what Meeks was referring to, because the reporter had not mentioned the letter regarding the NFLPA. Meeks then walked into his office and closed the door, ending the interview.

Later, when Meeks emerged from his office and walked to the underground parking garage, he did not respond to questions asking him to identify the other former players with whom he said he had spoken.

Sources said that if Vincent is found to have played a part in getting the letter sent, it could potentially harm his chances of getting the job. The move could be viewed as showing a lack of respect for the search process and could make it appear the union was weak at a time when it is facing labor unrest.

Sources also say the union is increasingly divided between those who support Vincent and those who oppose him.

In addition, some sources say NFLPA staff members favor candidate Armstrong because they believe they are more likely to keep their jobs at the union if he is elected executive director. Armstong could not be reached for comment.

Other sources say that staff members oppose Vincent because they believe he tried to unseat Upshaw at the annual meeting in Maui last year. Vincent has denied he had any part in any coup attempt.

At the interview in Dallas, Vincent presented the executive committee with a February 2007 e-mail written by Upshaw expressing his desire that Vincent succeed him, one source said. But sources loyal to Upshaw noted that was before Upshaw cut off the relationship in March 2008.

There have been differing media reports about Vincent’s relationship with Upshaw in the months before Upshaw’s death, and the letter the four congressman sent to the NFLPA specifically referenced a Jan. 4 column in The New York Times. The piece stated that although Upshaw would not name a successor, “he often hinted that Vincent had the requisite skills to lead the membership” and that part of the rift between Upshaw and Vincent was because Vincent was more willing than Upshaw to reach out to retired players. Former players have waged a public battle with the union over retirement benefits, and some have sued the NFLPA over marketing royalties.

But numerous friends of Upshaw disputed the Times’ characterization of their relationship.

One of them, former NFL player and NFLPA executive committee member Robert Smith said, “I know Gene did not want Troy in that position.”

Smith, who was initially mentioned in the media as a candidate for the executive director job but chose not to run, said, “I know for a fact the retired-players issues were not the issue between Gene and Troy. Their relationship soured over other issues.” Smith would not say what those issues were.

Correspondent Sarah Anderson contributed to this story. She writes for the Washington Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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