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Volume 24 No. 181

Leagues and Governing Bodies

DC-based attorney Cyrus Mehri last night "confirmed his intentions" to run against DeMaurice Smith for NFLPA Exec Dir next year, according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. Mehri, a prominent civil rights lawyer who also serves as counsel for the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said, "I couldn't live with myself if I didn’t come forward." He added, "A lot of Hall of Famers see a train wreck coming. The management side and the players' side don't get along, and it's become about being overly litigious, losing in court" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/23). Mehri announced his candidacy last night on HBO's "Real Sports," where the net's Bryant Gumbel reported Mehri was "sought out by some former players." Mehri said, "The more I saw how unfair the last CBA deal was, the more I felt I had to answer the call. ... The players went backwards economically in a massive way, and that's hundreds of millions of dollars that were forfeited. De Smith gave the commissioner a blank check -- ‘Dear commissioner, you can do whatever you want on player discipline.’ Well, we're going to fix that.” He said of the current relationship between the league and the union, "The well has been poisoned. You can't get much done with that kind of relationship." Mehri said he has a professional relationship with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, adding, "They have no choice but to bargain with me in good faith. If they don't, we're going to hit them really hard in ways that no major league sport has been hit before.” Mehri said he plans to "go to all 32 clubs, crisscross this country to present my platform, my new ideas, my approach." Smith said he intends to stay in the position "if the players want me to stay" ("Real Sports," HBO, 8/22).

WANTING TO START TALKS EARLY: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio notes Mehri released a statement last night about his candidacy that noted he will urge that "negotiations on a new CBA start early." The current deal expires after the '20 season, and Florio writes it will be "hard to do an early deal absent real leverage." Florio: "There's no leverage until it expires -- and until the players show the resolve to strike. That's the challenge the NFLPA always will face, regardless of who's running it" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 8/23). Mehri recently joined Twitter and used the platform last night to confirm his candidacy: "I humbly announce my candidacy for @NFLPA ExecDir. Look forward to sharing my vision w/ players and earning their support #unity #newvision" (TWITTER.com, 8/22). Former NFL exec Joe Browne tweeted, "Wouldn't think owners want to see Cyrus Mehri across negotiating table ... he's smart, shrewd & understands NFL." Eventia USA's Pete Davis: "Good. ... Players got a bad deal in last CBA, left tons of $$$ and leverage on the table." Deadspin's Lindsey Adler: "Interesting idea."

The public sniping between the NFL and NFLPA over Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension is the "latest episode in an increasingly acrimonious relationship" between the owners and the union, according to HBO's Bryant Gumbel. These are "turbulent times for NFL players, as higher-ups have imposed controversial and unilateral suspensions on players for alleged on-field violations (Deflategate), alleged off-field violations (Elliott) and what would appear to be a de facto suspension for a social protest (Colin Kaepernick).” When combined with the "usual economic complaints," there is a "group of players on edge." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith is at the "center of the storm," as he is "charged with representing and defending players against those who sign their paychecks.” Gumbel sat down with Smith, and a portion of their back-and-forth is below:

Smith: “This is a job that pits the interests of the players against the interests of owners in a business that generates nearly $15 billion a year.”
Gumbel: “Are those competitive interests, those two?”
Smith: “Absolutely. And let's not kid ourselves: I mean, the owners are formidable.” 

Smith later noted the owners “tore up” the previous CBA because “they're greedy." Smith: "I mean, what else is there?”
Gumbel: “They felt the players were getting too big a share of the pie.”
Smith: “I believe that's what they said. I think they simply meant they wanted to make more money.”

Smith said of the current CBA, “No deal is perfect. Am I happy about this deal and how this deal worked out? Absolutely.”
Gumbel: “Finish this one for me: ‘The aspect of the collective bargaining agreement of which I'm most proud is...’”
Smith: “All of it. We've seen the owners for the first time in history contributing over $300 million to former player pensions. We've seen our amount of work decrease. We've seen the health and safety of players increase.” 

LOOKING BACK AFTER SIX YEARS: Gumbel noted the players in the current CBA “won concessions like less practice time, increased health care options and spending minimums for teams." However, after six years, the deal is "being questioned because it failed to check the commissioner's absolute power to discipline players and because it reduced the players' overall percentage of NFL revenue.” The MMQB’s Andrew Brandt said, “What they came out with was a lot of health and safety benefits, and they lost on the economic side.” Gumbel noted the "decreased percentage of revenue for the players will result in billions of dollars lost over the duration of the agreement, in great part because at 10 years it is the longest binding labor agreement in the history of American sports.” Brandt: “It's an extraordinary term to have a ten-year agreement. The players should have a way to get out if it's not working for them.”


Gumbel: "Why enter into an agreement that's 10 years long? Doesn't that benefit the owners most?” 
Smith: “I would argue no. We have seen the salary cap in the National Football League grow at a rate that it's never grown before.”
Gumbel: “But not at the rate that the value of the franchises has grown. ... You have to be somewhat hurt, angered, insulted, confused when the general impression is…”
Smith interrupted and said, “No, no.”
Gumbel: "…that they walked all over you.”
Smith: “No. At the end of the day, I certainly respect your question about what objective people would say about the deal. But virtually none of them know the economics of our business.”
Gumbel: “No one questions the gains that the players have made. But the players don't come off nearly as well as the owners financially.”
Smith: “In what system do they do?”
Gumbel said of player discipline in the NFL, “Roger Goodell has the authority to act as judge, jury, arbitrator, enforcer, everything else.”
Smith: “Right, and the owners didn't want to change that. The question to our players became, ‘Do we want to do the deal without a change to that or not?’”
Gumbel: “And the answer was yes.” 
Smith: “Could that be an issue of bargaining going forward? Yes. Is it up to the players and our leadership to decide how much weight to put on it? Absolutely” ("Real Sports," HBO, 8/22). 

Bengals OT and NFLPA President Eric Winston on Monday said players are going to "have to prepare" for a lockout in '21. Winston, speaking to Cincinnati's WCPO-ABC, added, "That's the mind frame we all need to be in now." He said the issues are "always going to be the split of the money" and the "structure of the deal," as well as health and safety and guaranteed money. Winston said he does not care if football is "around in 20 years, because none of us are going to be playing" and "another work stoppage might kill the golden goose." Winston: "If this thing dies out in 20 years, it dies out in 20 years. That's not really my concern and I don't think it's any of these players concern in here either" (WCPO-ABC, 8/21). USA TODAY's Lindsay Jones notes Winston "clarified his comments" with a statement on his Twitter account, writing that a potential work stoppage, like a lockout, would be a "sign from owners that they are unconcerned about the NFL's future." Winston wrote, "Players have always chosen to be good stewards of the game because we are the game, but quite simply, if the owners choose to lock us out again as they did in 2011, or if they continue to deny the health and safety risks for football, then they have signaled that they are not worried about the game in 20-30 years." Jones notes Winston's comments and follow-up statement are just the "latest signs of discord between the league and the NFLPA," and an indication that negotiations on a new CBA "could turn nasty" (USA TODAY, 8/23).

GOING TOO FAR? NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa responded to Winston’s comments by saying, “If I'm an NFL player and I'm technically a rank and file member of the union, I want Mr. Winston to resign immediately." Papa: "He's just not looking at the best interest. He’s looking at it selfishly from his own interests. He's talking about 2021. That's only four years from now.” Papa: “Why would this guy want to ascend to be the president of the union if he's not going to represent the union properly, not just here and now but forever? ... He's unfit to be the president of the union. If I was in the union, I'd say, ‘Damn, resign!’ What are you talking about that you don't care about the rookies in the room. How selfish is that?” (“The Happy Hour,” NBC Sports Bay Area, 8/22). ESPN's Mike Golic said, "I don’t want to hear the tough talk because it doesn’t mean a damn thing until you get to where you need to get to." He added, "I’m so disheartened with the union and the league with their inability, especially the main guys, to get along. You’ve got a $14 billion business that you can’t seem to figure out to get everybody on the same page. So I don’t want to hear the talk. I don’t want to hear Eric Winston with the tough talk" (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 8/23).

HOPE FOR A RESOLUTION? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday during a fan forum in Detroit responded to NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith's comments about a work stoppage in '21, saying, "We believe that we have a labor agreement that's working well for players, it's working well for the NFL and I think as a result it's working well for the fans." Goodell: "We should continue that. Now, does that mean we think it's perfect? No. Does that mean the players think it's perfect? No. But this should be a basis for us to work together and get it solved. I think projections of whether there's going to be a work stoppage or not are really not the point. The point should be let's sit down and figure out our differences and get them solved. Do what's right for our fans and the game and try to make this an even more popular game collectively. That’s what I hope will happen" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 8/23).

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last night confirmed he is "having discussions" about renewing his contract through '24, adding he would be "honored to continue" in the position, according to John Niyo of the DETROIT NEWS. Goodell, during an appearance at a fan forum in Detroit, said, "The reality is, I believe the best days of the NFL are ahead, and as long as I can contribute to that, I would." Niyo notes Goodell "only truly serves a constituency of 32 owners," and business in recent years has been is "good." Despite bad press coming from issues "anthem protests to the high-profile player suspensions to last season’s notable drop in television ratings, it’s hardly a surprise that Goodell reportedly is close an agreement on a contract extension" (DETROIT NEWS, 8/23). ESPN.com's Seth Wickersham reported Goodell is "going to be commissioner for the near future not only because he has successfully made owners money but because he is masterful at dealing with his constituency." Even those who "privately disagree with many of Goodell's decisions begrudgingly respect his ability to handle owners, to know their needs and produce answers to their issues, a master of his own senate" (ESPN.com, 8/22). In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw wrote it "seems like everyone has wanted Goodell fired at some point during the last five years." However, the "reality is that in today's professional sports world, the commissioner works for the owners." Those owners have "grown richer than ever on Goodell's watch" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/22).

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said that the U.S. flag is "important to him and he liked the way his team has handled" the growing number of NFL player protests during the national anthem to date, according to Clarence Hill Jr. of the FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. Jones said, "I just feel so strongly that the act of recognizing the flag is a salute to our country and all of the people that have sacrificed so that we can have the liberties we have. So, I feel very strongly, everyone should, save that moment for recognition of the flag in a positive way. So I like the way the Cowboys do it." The Cowboys have "chosen to stand as a team" during the anthem. A source said that no player has "asked to protest" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 8/23). Texans coach Bill O'Brien also said the organization "believes strongly in the national anthem and believes in standing for the national anthem." Asked if a Texans player could protest during the anthem, LB Whitney Mercilus said, "I don't know. Man, I don't know the answer to that, honestly. But man, the biggest thing for that, look, you're entitled to your own opinion" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 8/23).

PATRIOTS MAY GET INVOLVED: In Boston, Brad Almquist notes no current Patriots players "have demonstrated yet," but S Devin McCourty has "noticed the traction the movement is gaining." McCourty said, “I’ve thought about it and how to get involved and how to help, but we’ll see.” McCourty’s twin brother, Browns CB Jason McCourty, was "part of the contingent that held the silent protest Monday." Devin McCourty "sees the progression as a positive sign." He said, “People’s minds are more open in trying to understand exactly what guys are trying to say and not just I think coming up with their own justification of what guys are trying to portray" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/23). Also in Boston, Karen Guregian notes Devin McCourty held up his right fist with then-Patriots TE Martellus Bennett after the anthem was played in last year’s season opener against the Cardinals. He said after the game that he "respects the anthem but wants to help improve the country" (BOSTON HERALD, 8/23).

SIGNS OF PROGRESS
: In West Palm Beach, Jason Lieser reports Dolphins WR Kenny Stills was "heartened" by the 12 Browns players who knelt Monday. He said, "I’m encouraged to see people getting involved and hope that they start taking the action and get involved in their community.” Stills, who knelt during the anthem last season, reiterated that he will "not take a knee" this season. Stills: "The narrative was going the wrong way, and I just wanted to get it going back the right way. I think the guys that are kneeling, as long as they start getting themselves involved in the community and start getting to work, then people can’t really have anything negative to say about that" (PALM BEACH POST, 8/23).

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he was a "little surprised" by the umpires' protest over the weekend, as it was a "clear violation" of the CBA, according to Chris McCosky of the DETROIT NEWS. Manfred: "We let them know it was a violation of their collective bargaining agreement and that we intended to enforce our rights under that agreement." Manfred said that the situation was "quickly diffused after he agreed to meet with the umpires group and hear their grievances." That meeting has "not yet taken place." But Manfred said that he "didn’t agree with the premise of the umpires’ beef -- that verbal attacks on umpires were happening with unprecedented frequency" (DETROIT NEWS, 8/23). Several umpires wore white wristbands during Saturday’s games to show support for umpire Angel Hernandez after Tigers 2B Ian Kinsler criticized him. In Michigan, Evan Woodbery noted Kinsler was "fined a reported $10,000 for his comments but not suspended." Hernandez is "currently suing MLB alleging that he was discriminated against because of his Cuban heritage." Manfred said that the lawsuit "played no role in Kinsler's punishment" (MLIVE.com, 8/22).

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: MLB Network's Brian Kenny said, "Everyone’s occupying the same baseball world and umpires are in that world. I think they need to be respected as well so hopefully something good comes out of this meeting.” MLB Network’s Jon Heyman: “Everyone’s going to be on edge a little bit. Nothing wrong with listening. Rob’s going to meet with them and I think that’s the right thing to do.” MLB Network’s Dan O’Dowd: “We set an unrealistic expectation for umpires in our game. It should be high because it shows us the crucial role they play in games in the outcomes day in and day out, but we lose perspective at times of how difficult of a job they have to do” (“MLB Now,” MLB Network, 8/21).

HUNKERING DOWN
: NBC Sports Bay Area’s Ray Ratto said it is now "remarkably confrontational" between MLB and the umpires (“The Happy Hour,” NBCS Bay Area, 8/21). CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said MLB umpiring has "never been worse than it is right now." Schein: "I don't want to hear about replay, I don’t want to hear about any of that. They need new umpires, baseball knows that. That was a joke this weekend” (“Time to Schein,” CBSSN, 8/21). The Colorado Springs Gazette's Woody Paige said there "should have been a suspension" for Kinsler because “otherwise the players know that they can just get away with saying whatever they want to.” The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw said the umpires "needed to do this.” The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke: “This was not a good look for the umpires, and even the umpires agree, because all of them didn’t wear the wristbands” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 8/21).

WHAT ABOUT THE HUMAN ELEMENT? ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand reported Manfred "thinks computer umpires accurately calling balls and strikes will be available" to MLB "sooner than later." At that point, the people who run baseball will "have to discuss if they want to eliminate a human element from the game." Manfred said, "When the technology gets there, I'm sure the owners will have a conversation on whether they want to go to make that additional move of taking that human element out of the game. Right now, we don't have technology that in real time can more accurately call balls and strikes than our human umpires, who -- let's not forget -- get it right about 95 percent of the time" (ESPN.com, 8/22).

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said that the league "plans to issue a policy on fan behavior for all ballparks next season." Manfred said that he "didn't want to talk about the details of what will be in the code of conduct for spectators" (AP, 8/23). ESPN.com's Scott Lauber reported the issue was "discussed at the quarterly owners meetings last week in Chicago and is expected to come up again when the owners reconvene in November." A source said that MLB is "seeking to establish a set of minimum behavioral standards and consequences that are uniform across the league" (ESPN.com, 8/22).

HOT TOPIC
: In Detroit, Anthony Fenech reports Manfred yesterday was "on the defensive again" on the topic of the home run rate rising, "insisting there is no tangible difference in the balls used these days." Asked if the balls are different now than they have been in previous seasons, Manfred said, “There is nothing that is different about the baseball. ... The ball is the same and within the same specifications.” He added, "I don’t have a view that more home runs are necessarily better than less home runs. I do know two things from our fan research. ... That fans like home runs. That’s a good thing" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 8/23).

FINAL COUNTDOWN
: The average MLB game has increased 9 minutes from the '15 season, and in S.F., Bruce Jenkins wrote Manfred "seems obsessed with pitch clocks -- one of the really terrible ideas in the history of sports -- and ignores a crucial factor: This alarming increase is all about instant replay." A’s manager Bob Melvin said, "I’m not a huge fan of it, to tell you the truth. Certain plays demand it, but we’re having to stop the game way too often, and the decisions (from New York headquarters) take far too long to come down" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 8/19).

AIRING OUT FEELINGS
: A NEWSDAY editorial stated for all MLB games between Aug. 25-27, the league "somehow got the dumb idea to celebrate Players Weekend by allowing snazzy gear and nicknames rather than last names on uniforms." The Yankees have "never included last names, let alone fake ones, on their uniforms." And instead of the "traditional pinstripes at home and gray on the road, they will don navy blue pullovers." This will be a "sad first for the storied franchise." The marketing ploy will "probably sell a few more jerseys," but "even those dreamers might recoil from the sight of the particular nicknames baseball’s finest have claimed" (NEWSDAY, 8/21).