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NFL union chief: Much work remains to salvage 2011 season

DeMaurice Smith. align=left
DeMaurice Smith. align=left

Off-the-field trouble is brewing again in the NFL. No, we're not talking about Ben Roethlisberger or Michael Vick. We're talking about a dispute over money between owners and players. Sixty percent of league revenue goes to player salaries. The NFL Players union says owners essentailly want players to take an 18 percent pay cut, a claim that league officials deny. But owners have opted out of their collective bargaining agreement with the union, and both sides are already making plans for a lockout in 2011. That could mean no NFL football. DeMaurice Smith is in the middle of this dispute. He's executive director of the NFL Players Association. He addressed the Charlotte Touchdown Club on Wednesday and spoke to WFAE's Scott Graf. DeMaurice: What the players know is that since 2008 the league has taken concerted steps to prepare themselves for a lockout, and right now with the players where they are we're trying to play catch up. We're also trying to work them to understand what, if any, changes need to be made to the current deal. We continue to ask them for critical financial information to understand what the financial condition of the national football league is. We don't get profit information. We don't get audited financial statements from the teams. Scott: Player behavior has been in the news a lot. Does that factor into the way you go about negotiations? DeMaurice: No. The players understand what I expect from them. The players of the national football leagues know that while there might be one tenth of one percent of the players who do get into some sort of trouble. The vast majority of them want to make sure the game is clean. The overwhelming majority want to make sure that the process that we have for drug testing is fair. For us, it is a connection that they have as players that they have a gift to do something that most human beings can't do, but virtually every player in the national football league also understands that it's an obligation upon themselves, and to their fans, and to their teams to make sure that they are not only great players on the field, but great and upstanding men in their communities off the field. Scott: Have you reminded them to be on their best behavior with this in mind? DeMaurice: I don't talk to them like they're kids. I talk to them like they are young men in the business of football. So, what I do tell them is that what I expect from them, what their fans expect from them. I expect from them is to be good fathers, good sons, and good men in their community. So it's not really a message of be on your best behavior, it's a message of you need to be accountable given the gift that you have and the position you have in the national football league. Scott: The NFL has reached levels that American sport hasn't seen, the richest in the entire world. Are you, as a head of the players union, willing to risk that momentum to make a stand next year? DeMaurice: You know, look, they're looking to lock us out. So, I don't know how I would possibly risk the momentum when the strategy appears to be to shut the doors and not let players work. I'm much more interested in how do we continue to play this great game for our fans, and for our players, and for their families, and for their communities. I'm much for interested in how do we grow this game so that it's better for everybody. It's why I'm greatly interested in if owners want investment capital from players. The way that business does that in America is you trade investment capital for equity positions or shares in equity positions later on. If that's a great fix for that, then that's something we should be discussing, but for players in the national football league who only play an average of 3.6 years, they understand that their window of playing this game is incredibly short. So, nobody wants to stop the game on our part. Scott: Do you think owners are willing to risk that momentum to lock players out? DeMaurice: I never guess about what owners are thinking. Scott: Do you believe there will be a 2012 season in the NFL that will include your players? DeMaurice: We've got a lot of work to do to get there. Scott: How far away are the two sides? DeMaurice: We've got a lot of work to go to get there. Scott: DeMaurice Smith is executive director of the NFL Players Association. He addressed the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The Club also announced a $55,000 donation to CMS, which includes $15,000 each from the Players Association and the Carolina Panthers. The money will go toward creating scholarships for middle school students who want to play sports. Because of budget cuts, middle school students must pay $50 per sport next year.