NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith Discusses Refs' Labor Dispute, PED Testing, League's Future
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith in a Q&A with SI.com's Jim Trotter addressed his organization's role in the NFL-NFLRA labor dispute, the union's stance on PED testing, and his relationship with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Below are excerpts from the Q&A:
Q: Can the Players Association do more to resolve the impasse between the NFL and its officials?
Smith: We have done a lot. I stay in touch with [President] Scott Green from the Referees Association. I've met with the National Football League about the issue and made our concerns abundantly clear to them. We've been very public in saying that we believe on a scale of 1-10 the use of replacement referees in the preseason is a 12. That goes up to a 16 now that you're entering into the regular season.
Q: Is there any possibility of the players en masse withholding their services because of safety concerns with replacement officials?
Smith: In America it is the employer's obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible. We believe that if the National Football League fails in that obligation we reserve the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate.
Q: Where is the union and the league regarding HGH?
Smith: The league recently informed us that the doctor that they selected to do the population study has not only withdrawn, but is not interested in coming back to do the population at all. We have made it clear to the league that they should either adopt or select one of our doctors to do the population study for HGH -- and interestingly, it is a doctor that has worked for the league before -- in order to move the process forward. But we believe there are only, in broad categories, two fundamental things that the league has to agree to for us to get to a stage of HGH testing. One is to make sure we have a clear, transparent and scientifically valid standard against which our players will be adjudicated; and second that there is an independent arbitration system for players to challenge any finding against them, and an independent arbitration system to handle any appeal of commissioner discipline.
Q: Everyone talks about your relationship with Commissioner Goodell. Do people make too much of it?
Smith: We have a good working relationship. Period. I'm not going to amplify on that at all. The reality of it is, we are a strong union who demonstrated that our players were going to sit together and were going to fight for a deal that was fair. ... It seems to me where there is a commonality of interest, those are the things upon which we should be working together so when it comes to issues of health and safety, compensating players for injuries that they sustained at work, making access to workman's comp easier rather than harder, and ensuring that the right people are on the field when it comes to protecting the players in the game that we all love.
Q: In summation, what are your thoughts on the state of the league, and what are the major issues on the horizon?
Smith: With respect to issues coming down the line, the big issues deal with how we employ our resources to better understand how we can make our game safer. For example, the union recently submitted RFPs to some of the most well known medical research centers in the country, where we asked them to come up with analysis and treatment protocols for how to make our game safer. … Over the next few months we'll work with the National Football League and with accomplished neuroscientists and physicians to come up with the best programs to make our game safer and better for everyone for the next decade (SI.com, 8/28).