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NFLPA elects new Executive Director: DeMaurice Smith

As ProfessorBigelow pointed out yesterday, the NFL Players Association has elected a new Executive Director, replacing the late Gene Upshaw.  The new Executive Director is DeMaurice Smith, a partner at Patton Boggs, a Washington, DC.  The three other finalists were sports attorney David Cornwell and former players Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent.

While this news is not 49ers specific, it is obviously a big story given the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.  The most interesting aspect, at least in my opinion, is that Smith does not have a sports background.  The two previous executive directors were former player Gene Upshaw, and Ed Garvey, an attorney who had worked as counsel to the NFLPA prior to being named Executive Director.

At Patton Boggs, Smith concentrated in white-collar criminal defense and “bet the company” tort liability trials.  He also was chair of the firm’s Government Investigations and White-Collar Practice Group.  Some of experience has included:

  • Representation of the General Counsel at one of the U.S.’s largest health care services provider in criminal and Congressional investigation
  • Trial of radio executive in insider trading allegations
  • Numerous representations of corporate executives in criminal and civil trials and corporate internal investigations
  • Representation of major government contracting firm before U.S. Congress in oversight hearings

So, Smith brings a general legal expertise, as opposed to a sports specialization.  According to PFT, Smith is widely considered a compromise candidate because Vincent and Armstrong were expected to split the vote.  The NFLPA has players in assorted positions but I've often wondered why there has not been a greater number of non-players in key positions.

I realize that players know the game better than anybody else, but one can simply look at the baseball players' union to see what outsiders can do for a union.  The MLBPA took off under the leadership of Marvin Miller, who spent his time with the National Labor Relations Board, the Machinist Union, the United Auto Workers and the Steelworkers Union before taking over the MLBPA.  His experience allowed him to take the MLBPA to unheard of heights and great riches, including free agency.  He was succeeded by Donald Fehr, who remains executive director.  In spite of the steroid issue, Fehr has led the MLBPA to continued riches.

I certainly think Smith brings a certain level outside expertise.  Given the decline in unions lately, I'm not exactly shocked that there wasn't a traditional union leader in the mix.  We'll find out real quick whether Smith can handle the job.  As ProfessorBigelow mentioned in his FanShot, Smith is immediately going to be dealing with negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.  This particular CBA negotiation comes with the league and the nation at a financial crossroads.  The owners are looking to lower the salary committments they have to make, while the players are battling such arguments in struggling economic times.

Whether you side with the players or the owners in this high stakes negotiation, it's an important time for the league.  The potential for a strike or lockout looms large like the proverbial dark clouds in the distance.  While it is not a 49ers specific story, it affects everybody in the NFL and is something I want to try and cover in detail in the coming months.  Labor law, particularly sports labor, is the area of law I want to go into (for the new folks, I'm a second year law student at the University of San Francisco), so consider it my own little pet project.

FOOCH'S UPDATE: In one of his first moves, Smith has asked newly retired Tony Dungy to serve as a liaison between the NFLPA and the NFL office for player issues.