Written by Jeff Nixon – April 16, 2010
Blacklist: A list or register of persons who, for one reason or another, are being denied a particular privilege, service, mobility, access or recognition.
In a March 4, 2010 letter to retired players, DeMaurice Smith thanks the leaders who built the game and the Union and says how difficult the fight will be and how strong and vicious their opponents will fight against them.
He says “They will use their friends in the media, they will use former players, and they will find current players to attack the solidarity of this Union, to extort every leverage point”. He goes on to say that “I am blessed because Gene left me a detailed history of those who stood for what was right. He also left me a wealth of information detailing the efforts of those who fought and will fight against our players.”
I guess that information didn’t get burned up in the mysterious fire in DeMaurice Smith’s office last year.
It is almost unimaginable to think that Mr. Smith would imply that retired players that speak out – and have spoken out – against the NFLPA are basically traitors and that he will expose them if they continue to be critical of the Union.
That sounds like “real” extortion.
The players that helped in the formation and the Union, and those that participated in the strikes of 1968, 1974, 1982 and 1987 did not blindly follow the Union wherever it led. There were many critics of the Union then…..and there are many critics now. Dare I say that it is our “patriotic duty” to question our Leaders.
The veiled threats that Mr. Smith has made in his letter will not intimidate or stop retired players from questioning him and others at the NFLPA and it will not stop us from getting information out to retired players regarding the pension plan, the disability plan and other issues that are important to us.
Retired players haven’t forgotten how the Union has treated us in recent years. Mr. Smith was wise to settle the Class Action suit, but that doesn’t mean it never happened. Many of the same people that tried so hard to defeat us and discredit us, are still employed at the NFLPA. That alone speaks volumes about the state of the Union.
It is important for everyone to know that DeMaurice Smith is not only the Executive Director of the NFLPA, but also the Chairman of NFL Players – the licensing and marketing subsidiary of the NFL Players Association. This is the organization that determines which players - active and retired - will get compensated for their endorsement of products, their merchandise and their appearances at special events.
There might not be a smoking gun to show that Mr. Smith has used his “leverage” as the Chairman to blacklist certain retired players who have been critical of him or others at the NFLPA, but if you look at who is getting paid through NFL Players, you’re not going to find too many of his detractors on the list.
NFL Players is paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to active and some retired players in what could almost be considered ”hush money”. How many of the players that are making thousands of dollars through NFL Players are going to risk saying anything critical about the hand that feeds them?
Mr. Smith also states in his letter that “There will be those who cross the picket line of player loyalty tomorrow just as there were those who crossed the line against you. While many don’t remember the players who crossed and betrayed players trust, I do remember and our current players know”.
One thing that active players know is this: They have never had to go on strike and they’ve never had to criticize their own Union. Why would they need to when they are now enjoying unbelievably huge salaries and enormous benefits that were bestowed on them during the era of the Gene Upshaw Gold Rush.
Gene Upshaw wanted to ensure his continued employment with the active players so he got busy creating other “retirement type” benefits and perks for active players. There wasn’t much of an outcry from retired players at the time because none of us really knew what was happening and our communication network was pretty weak. If anyone did complain, Gene had no problem throwing them under the bus to get his way!
According to Mr. Smith, Gene Upshaw kept a lot of information and records about his enemies and now Mr. Smith is proudly following in his footsteps.
I was one of the players that went on strike in 1982. I never crossed the picket line. None of us did - but like all the other players at the time, we eventually took what was offered to get us back on the field. For those of you that remember, it was called “Money Now”. I was in my fourth year in the NFL and my salary at the time was $55,000. We played the first three games that year before going on strike, so I only had a small amount of money set aside. Most players thought the season was over and we resigned ourselves to looking for employment elsewhere. The Union wasn’t very strong back then and we had no “strike fund” to speak of so we came back to work. How that strike was “actually” settled is the topic of a new book “The Unbroken Line” which details the events surrounding what happened back then and how some of our Union officials sold us out.
DeMaurice Smith should get the book as soon as possible. He can read about some of the folks in the book – that are still working for the Union. The book interviews the people and the players and has first hand accounts of how it all went down.
The book will be located in the “Horror Section” of the Library.
Believe it or not, most retired players want DeMaurice Smith to succeed in his negotiations with the owners. I know I do, but only if success is defined as an increase in retired player pensions and reforms to the disability plan. We don’t want to be used as pawns to leverage additional money from the owners. They are already paying over $736 million annually for benefits which are going mostly to guys that played after 1993.
Some of those post 1993 players are now speaking up about the plight of former players, and even though they were beneficiaries of the money during that period of time, they also recognize that it is now time to do the right thing and assist former players and make some changes to the current system – including the establishment of a rookie wage scale.
The NFL owner’s recently proposed a $100 million immediate increase in retired player pensions. We saw it evaporate right before our eyes when the NFLPA said yes to the basics of the proposal – but then tied it to a two-year extension of the CBA - which they knew would be shot down.
For the approximately 130 former NFL and AFL retired players that will pass away this year, it will be too late for them. The old saying ”delay, deny and hope we die” hits home especially hard for those player’s families.
Mr. Smith needs to stop burning his bridges with retired players, but more importantly, he needs to burn Gene Upshaw’s Blacklist, along with the one he’s been compiling ever since he took office.