His name is DeMaurice Smith. Â Until Monday, there’s very little chance even the most devoted football fan had any idea about this man.
But right now he looms on the horizon as one of the most important people in pro football.
Using a box from a pair of Reebok shoes to hold the secret ballots, the NFL Players Association elected Smith their new executive director on Sunday night in Maui.
As the replacement for the late Gene Upshaw, this 45-year old Washington attorney walks into a potential volatile situation as the NFL owners and players face a season without a salary cap in 2010 before the current agreement between the parties expires.
Smith did not waste any time, as he spoke by phone with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, put together a transition team and spoke on a conference call with reporters.
“This is a tremendous game and the men who play it sacrifice, they know about team, they know about honor, they know about duty,” Smith said. “It’s a pleasure to be around men who know that and live that every day. At the same time, the game is bigger than them.”
If there should be a labor action in 2011 it won’t be because of the players, said Smith. He’s hoping negotiations can avert an owners’ lockout of the players.
“There are people in American who rely on those game-day checks in the same way these men rely on those (game) checks,” said smith. “From the people who park the cars in the stadium, to the people who are working the concessions, to the people who support this game in each and every way; I don’t want a lockout for our men.
“But I also don’t want a lockout for the people who need those eight paychecks a year. As we move forward, I hope that our discussions with the owners is both early and fruitful and it is my sincere hope that we can come to an agreement extremely quickly so that everybody knows this game will continue in a great way.
“Talk about things like a lockout, it hurts these men. But it also hurts a larger group of people and we’re mindful of that.”
Smith said his goal is to maintain the labor peace, but he warned that he is also preparing for what he referred to as “war.”
“There isn’t a day where I don’t hope for peace. But at the same time, there isn’t a day where we won’t prepare for war,” Smith said. “So, as we move forward, I hope that our discussion with the owners is both early and fruitful. And it is my sincere hope that we can come to an agreement extremely quickly.”
So who is DeMaurice Smith?
He’s the son of a former Marine and the grandson of a sharecropper preacher. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1985 from Cedarville College, a Christian school near Dayton Ohio. He graduated from the University of Virginia’s School of Law in 1989. He worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, where he prosecuted more than 80 jury trials and handled significant homicide, narcotics and white-collar crime investigations.
Smith went on to serve as counsel to then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder in the U.S. Department of Justice before entering private law practice. In recent years, he’s been a trail lawyer and litigation partner at the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs. He represented corporations and individuals in both criminal and administrative matters, notably those pending before the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Department of Justice, U.S. Congress, Justice Department-Antitrust Division, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.Â He has tremendous experience in cases alleging conspiracy, environmental crimes, accounting fraud, health care, securities, obstruction, antitrust, false statements, and defense contractor fraud.
NEW DIRECTOR WANTS HELP FROM DUNGY
One of the first things that Smith had on his agenda as NFLPA executive director was a phone call to former Colts head coach Tony Dungy. That call was placed on Monday.
Smith wants Dungy to serve as a liaison between the players and the NFL office on player issues on and off the field.
Dungy confirmed to ESPN.com that he’s interested in the position.
“It’s certainly something that’s close to my heart, having been associated with the NFL for so long,” Dungy said.
AS THE CUTLER TURNS
As expected, QB Jay Cutler did not show for the 8 o’clock team meeting on Monday morning with new head coach Josh McDaniels (left).
Cutler stands by his demand to be traded.
McDaniels asked his players not to talk about what his comments in the meeting about Cutler. Basically, he told the squad that he would handle the matter.
“He said, ‘I’ll take care of it,’ and that’s pretty much it,” said defensive lineman Kenny Peterson. “(As players), you can’t control it. You got to control what you can control.
New cornerback Andre Goodman hasn’t met Cutler, but knows how important the situation is to his new team.
“The quarterback is the face of the team,” Goodman said. “When you take the coach out of it, (the QB) is the face of the team. Everybody will tell you it starts with the quarterback.”
Goodman said it’s up to the players to handle the distraction.
“It’s only hard if you allow it to be hard,” he said. “If you’re a professional you don’t allow it to be hard. It’s all about the approach you take as individuals.”
The Broncos have already field calls from other teams about Cutler. The head coach would still like an opportunity to speak with the quarterback one-on-one and Cutler simply wants a new home.
“I would like to talk to Jay before we go on and start to discuss some other type of alternative,” McDaniels said. “In the last couple weeks, we’ve been all about trying to communicate and resolve his unhappiness with what happened Ă˘â‚¬â€ť which we understand Ă˘â‚¬â€ť and that’s been our direction.”
Direction maybe, but it hasn’t produced the desired results.
UPDATE ON SIGNINGS AND MOVES AROUND THE LEAGUE
CARDINALS - signed RB Jason Wright (Cleveland).
49ERS – signed LB Mark Washington.
JAGUARS - released WR Matt Jones.
JETS – re-signed CB Ahmad Carroll.
PACKERS – matched offer sheet to CB Jarrett Bush from Tennessee.
PATRIOTS – re-signed S. Raymond Ventrone, S Tank Williams, OT Wesley Britt. Signed C Al Johnson (Miami).
STEELERS – re-signed LB Arnold Harrison.
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY …
Born on March 17, 1973 in Memphis was safety Jerome Harlan Woods, who would go on to play nine seasons in the NFL with the Chiefs (1996-2005). Wood was the team’s first-round choice in the 1996 NFL Draft out of then Memphis State. He played in 128 games with 105 starts, finishing with 15 career interceptions, including two that he returned for touchdowns in 2003, including one for 79 yards and the score.
Born on March 17, 1965 in Ft. Lauderdale was tight end Alfredo Roberts. He played three seasons with the Chiefs (1988-90) after being the team’s eight-round choice I n the ’88 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami. In 48 games, he caught 29 passes for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s currently coaching in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Born on March 17, 1933 in Chicago was former interim Chiefs head coach Tom Bettis. He played linebacker in the NFL for nine seasons (1955-63) before beginning his coaching career. After the Chiefs fired Paul Wiggin midway through the ’77 season, Bettis was named head coach. The Chiefs went 1-6 in the final half of the season.