I had the chance to sit with the new executive director of the NFL Players Association,
I came away from the Smith meeting, at a restaurant in northwest Washington, with some strong thoughts.
He's a sponge. He doesn't know all the issues yet (it would be pretty hard to know them all, seeing he was picked for the job one month ago Wednesday), but he sounds like a knowledge-gatherer and consensus-builder. The day I met with him, the NFLPA had a big Retirement Board meeting, honing in on the continuing problems of retired pro players, and Smith stopped in to listen for a while but said very little. That's because he realizes he knows very little right now.
He's not used to the very public world he's about to enter. He's been a trial lawyer and an assistant U.S. prosecutor, and he's had some big cases, but he's never had his public pronouncements probed and deconstructed the way they're about to be now. I think he's a pleasant man, and a tough man with a thick skin. But it's easy to say, as he does, that the public eye is not going to fry him. He may be right. But he wouldn't be human -- and I've seen this done to people who fight the NFL -- if getting ripped in the press and public didn't affect him.
He's going to fight for the retired players and the $8-an-hour stadium parking attendants almost as hard as he's going to fight for the players. That you can take to the bank.
I told Smith the current players have always given lip service to the retired-player issues, but never stepped up and demanded the union take better care of these poor, depressed souls. I told him about former Minnesota center
"If they had a problem with me on that issue,'' Smith said, grabbing the chair he was sitting in, "then I'm not sitting in this chair right now. When I was talking with the player reps [at the site of the election in Hawaii], there wasn't a player there who didn't think more should be done for the retired players.''
Scattershooting some issues with Smith:
• On not knowing the vast majority of players he's been chosen to lead: "People have asked me, 'How are you going to relate to those guys in the locker room?' By talking to them. That's what I do. I communicate. I listen. I think my job is to do the will of the players. It has to do with a plan, not a person.''
• On the owners' desire to have more manageable rookie salaries, particularly at the top of the first round: "The cold, hard reality is that's not our job. Why would any owner come to me, or [union president]
• On the league's expansion of the schedule from 16 to either 17 or 18 regular-season games: "There's been a great deal of talk by players on this issue. The players know the health and safety costs of playing this game. The fact is, it does look like a war zone in some of those [locker] rooms late in the season. But it's hard for me to talk about it because I haven't seen a plan from the league on this. I'd like to know exactly what the statistical probability is for increased injuries by players. I'd like to know the econometrics of the issue, and I'd like to make sure the cost and compensation of the extra games would be fair to the players.''
• On the provocative nature of his statement after being elected that every day he prays for peace but prepares for war in the looming negotiations with the NFL for a new bargaining agreement: "For the owners or people in the league who might have taken that as provocative, I can tell you that there are a lot of players who take the owners' possibility of a lockout in two years as the most provocative statement that could be made at the start of the negotiations.''
I asked Smith if a job action could be averted. "I'm extremely confident,'' he said, though I got the strong feeling it was just something a labor leader has to say before the start of what are sure to be contentious negotiations on the future of this $8-billion-a-year business. "I have to believe the owners want to play the games without interruption. I know our players do.''
Now onto your e-mail:
Classy, personable guy who never thought the game or the story was about him. The game was the game, and he was an onlooker, a narrator, there to support it. Sometimes announcers try to become bigger than they should be, and bigger than fans really want them to be. That wasn't Kalas. I thought it was great (and I don't mean great that he died, but great where it happened) that he took his last breath doing what he loved to do -- broadcast a baseball game. "It's like [former commissioner]
Funny how he was revered so much on ESPN last night by the baseball analysts ... and the fans in most of the country know him more as a football voice for HBO's and Showtime's "Inside the NFL'' show, and for voiceover voice for Campbell's Soup and Coors Light and whatever else he peddled. "I loved his voice,'' said Sabol. "His pipes resonated like
David, this is why the players are going to have a hard time winning this CBA battle with the owners. Fans like you (and there are tens of thousands out there, maybe hundreds of thousands, who feel the same way) don't want to hear about players feeling ripped off for having to play playoff games for $33,000.
Nick, if you got an average of $8,000 per case, and then it came time to argue the biggest case you'd ever had before the Florida Supreme Court, and you got $500 for it, would you feel that was fair? Everything is relative.
Interesting thoughts, Nick. But I would just say this: A great player making $5 million a year in Buffalo and a great player making $5 million in New England is different. The New England player might play 19 games and make $5.1 million; the Buffalo player might play 16 and make $5 million. It's a question of salary fairness, seems to me.
Great argument, even though there's much skepticism that Tebow is a top-of-the-first-round quarterback talent. Next year likely will be better for quarterbacks. But if the Lions love Stafford, they're not going to pass on him. What guarantee do they have that they'd be picking in the top five or six, or whatever number it would have to be to get one of the best two or three quarterbacks next year? We can sit here and say the Lions are destined to draft in the top three every year for the next X number of years, but as Miami showed last year, there's no guaranteeing anything these days in the NFL.
Good points, sort of. I would say this: Whenever I talk to football fans in the West, I find they love NFL games starting at 10 a.m. That's all I'm talking about here -- starting the draft at a time suitable for both East and West coast fans. I'm not saying the NFL should be cowed by a couple of baseball games, but it's common sense: They knew the FOX game of the week starts at 4 p.m. on April 25. Why start your premier event of the offseason at the same time, as it turns out, as rivalry games involving two of the three biggest markets in the United States? It's not good business.
Nick, thanks for the restaurant reviews. Good meeting you, too. My guess is the Giants will get either Braylon Edwards or draft a receiver in the first two rounds. It's a good year for wideouts, but the problem with getting a rookie is that rookie receivers rarely make an impact in year one, and the Giants need a receiver to be impactful this year, not in 2011.
Point noted, but not agreed with.