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Smith jeopardizing players' position

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Hub Arkush
Publisher and editor

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Posted May 03, 2011 @ 2:32 p.m. ET
By Hub Arkush

The low point of the 2011 NFL draft for me was an interview I heard with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, and Jeremy Schaap on ESPN radio, about a half hour before the draft actually began Thursday night.

Before I explain, let me set the table. Certainly by now we've all seen enough to understand clearly that this labor mess is about nothing more than greed and arrogance, and the NFL owners' desire to increase their profits and profit margins by taking back compensation currently being paid to the players, and severely limiting how much they can receive in the future.

To date the players have won just about every skirmish against the owners and are fairly well entrenched on the high ground. Right up until they decertified their union on March 11, the players continually offered to continue working under 2010 league rules while they negotiated if the owners would promise not to lock them out — the exclamation point here being that the 2010 rules were far less favorable to the players than the rules they played under from 2006-09 under the last Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The owners, on the other hand, have spent the last three years strategizing to get us to exactly where we are — the NFL shut down and all of their energy focused on breaking the players' resolve to force them to accept less for their efforts and guarantee the ability to limit their compensation going forward. Someone please explain to me what possible potential for benefit this lockout offers a single fan or player, let alone all of us.

Our lowest point was reached a couple nights before the draft following a ruling by Judge Susan Nelson that the lockout should be lifted. Commissioner Roger Goodell authored an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal stating that what the players wanted was to destroy all that is good about the NFL and to exist in a state of anarchy. Goodell was careful to name the players' lawyers as opposed to the players themselves, but it was clear to anyone reading it where he was going. It was as disingenuous and dishonest an attack as we've seen to date, wasn't it?

In the draft night interview with Smith, Schaap teed the ball up for Smith with the only relevant question left and as rhetorical a question as has ever been asked. "Do the players actually support any of the things Goodell accused them of in the WSJ piece?" Schaap inquired. Instead of putting the final nail in the coffin of the owners' side of the debate with the righteous indignation it deserved, Smith completely ignored the question and launched into a scathing attack on the owners. Schaap interrupted a minute or two into Smith's diatribe and asked Smith if he wished to respond to the question. Smith harshly replied "let me finish" and continued his attack on the owners without ever answering the question.

Activities like the draft, restrictions on free agency, a salary cap, price fixing for rookie wage scales and a number of other commonly accepted activities of the NFL are all clear violations of the antitrust laws. That is unless both sides agree to those things in a CBA, as they have since 1993, which has led to the unparalleled success of the NFL.

From the moment he took the helm of the NFLPA, Smith has done nothing but agitate, attack and demonize the NFL owners, in part because they've made themselves such an easy target. Say what you want about Gene Upshaw, but no one ever doubted his first concern was for his fellow players, and look at all he accomplished for them, and for us as fans. Who exactly is DeMaurice Smith looking out for?

From the moment this war started I have never heard a single word from the players about wanting to change the structure of the game, and I understand their concern for protecting their compensation. Now that he so clearly has the high ground, if Smith intends to go after the draft, salary cap, functional restrictions on free agency, etc. — all necessary tools to make the NFL as great as it is — instead of using the high ground to hammer out the agreement the players deserve, I will first apologize to commissioner Goodell and then assure you that De Smith represents a far greater danger to the NFL as we know and love it than all 32 of the owners combined. Which way is it De?

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