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INDIANAPOLIS — One year ago, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith stood before a packed, hot room in Dallas and spoke with an obvious edge to his voice about the then-impending labor crisis.
Thursday the mood was considerably more toned down.
Smith stood alongside the NFLPA's eight-player leadership panel — including several outgoing members such as Sean Morey, Tony Richardson and Kevin Mawae, whom Smith emotionally praised for their service — and spoke of labor harmony and the union's future goals for its membership.
There was business to attend to, though, and it was not all bouquet tossing in the 45-minute press conference. Regarding HGH testing for players, which has yet to be sorted out, Smith said the NFLPA and the league continue to collectively bargain the process for implementing the plan. Both sides agreed to testing for performance-enhancing drugs in the new labor agreement last year, but the details have yet to be settled.
Smith also said the union would not be "bullied" into accepting a bad plan for its players. Players roundly object to blood tests, which right now are said to be the only reliable test available. In addition, it's an extremely expensive test, costing up to $2,500 for administering. But the union's biggest objection is over the test population — the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Smith said, has not given enough information about what test levels are acceptable for positive and negative tests.
"With all due respect to the folks at WADA, who have told us that the standard against which our players will be measured is really none of our business and shouldn't concern us, how can it not be our business?" Smith asked rhetorically. "It seems to me and the players that if we are able to get to a system that is truly transparent, that is the best answer to the solution.
"But no one will bully us into a test. No one will force the players to accept something that's unfair. How could we?"
WADA officials previously have said the NFLPA must live up to its agreement to proper testing. NFLPA officials privately are concerned that football players' HGH levels — which occur naturally in the body — could exceed non-players' levels, which might skew the WADA test results to the players' disadvantage.
In other union business, Smith said:
- Health and safety concerns would be the main barometer for the union to consider regarding expanding the regular season beyond 16 games, which was a major negotiating point in the early labor talks last year. The league wants to expand to 18 games or more, and the NFLPA steadfastly has railed against the idea. Said Smith, "The health and safety of our players is something we said early on was a non-negotiable issue, and that will remain so."
- The union had not been consulted by the NFL about the report that the Rams will play London games in each of the next three seasons. "Obviously it raises some significant concerns about the health and safety of the players given the transportation, given the jet lag," Smith said.
- The concerns raised by agent David Cornwell in a letter to fellow agents were replete with falsehoods. Cornwell, who threw his hat into the ring to vie for Smith's executive director job previously, criticized Smith's performance in an 11-page confidential memo. Smith dismissed the report summarily. "The truth is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts," he said. After Smith spoke, Mawae — the NFLPA president, whose contract is up in March, as is Smith's — passionately trashed the Cornwell report, saying he felt "highly disrespected" and that Cornwell was playing "Monday-morning quarterback" by criticizing a deal long after it had been bargained. The players will vote on Smith's re-election in March, and Mawae told PFW after the press conference that Smith has included players in the labor process more than predecessor Gene Upshaw did and that Smith has "done everything he outlined when he ran for the position four years ago. He has met his goals, including a fair CBA for the players, and he should be re-elected."