Executive Director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) DeMaurice Smith took to the stage to tackle a myriad of issues during Thursday’s meeting. Smith also offered solutions to a variety of concerns that many feel have become commonplace in the NFL. Smith began his speech by averring that the NFLPA’s primordial responsibility is to care for incumbent and future NFL players. He also took a moment to pay homage to the players that have served as members of the NFLPA prior to being appointed to the position of Executive Director of the NFLPA. Smith said,
“We stand on the shoulders of men who have come before us to build this union into a union that serves its members.”
Servant leadership was a point of emphasis during Smith’s time at the podium. A prime example of Smith’s servant leadership was his contributions to a painstakingly collated 300-page document that is known as the NFL’s most recent collectively bargained salary cap. Smith and the NFLPA have gone to great lengths to prevent the erosion of player revenue shares. Information pertaining to the salary cap generally comes from ownership and is often times parroted by the media. On occasion, the cap number ownership reports is contradictory to their economic reality. As a result of what can be perceived as duplicitous forecasting by the owners, the NFLPA will soon begin the process of creating their own salary cap projections in an effort to enhance player revenue shares. DeMaurice Smith elaborated on the challenges created by inaccurate cap numbers,
“We believe that not only misrepresents the economic reality of how the salary cap works, but our concern is that those inaccurate projections may have a negative consequence on some players trying to negotiate new contracts.”
The NFLPA will begin the process of constructing cap projections between now and the NFL Scouting Combine. The previous collectively bargained cap spend was relatively ineffective much to the dismay of Smith and the NFLPA. Due to bonuses unlikely to be earned that counted against the cap, it appeared as though money was being spent on the players when in fact it wasn’t. The NFLPA was able to collectively bargain a cash spend to ensure the salary cap was being spent on the players. The mandatory cash spend policy requires teams to dedicate an average of 89 percent of the salary cap to the players over a four-year span.
Additionally, the new policy entails a league-wide spend of 95 percent. Smith considered the 2013 season a success as the NFL cash spends ascended to nearly 97 percent. However, teams like the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots among others are below the 89 percent mandatory cash spend. Teams below the requisite 89 percent will have to spend in excess of 100 percent of the salary cap to remain in compliance with the collectively bargained cash spend. Smith went on to explain why the policy is important to the players.
“We want the cash spent. These men put everything on the line each and everyday. They sacrifice everything. They perform at their highest, and we want the salary cap to be employed at it’s highest when it comes to our players.”
Smith also addressed player health and safety at the NFLPA Super Bowl press conference. Smith recounted a time when NFL players refrained from asking for their medical records for fear of retaliation and being released by their respective employers. Smith was pleased to share with the media that every NFL player will now receive Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). EMRs give NFL players access to their medical records at any given time. Smith also highlighted modifications made to return to play protocols stating.
“We insisted on having neutral concussion experts to evaluate players before they return to the field. We have had increased adherence to that.”
Under the leadership of Smith every medical professional in the NFL must be credentialed. Smith said,
“We found out that there were some team doctors that were not trained in sports medicine. “
Another hot topic was players’ rights. Smith believes the NFL unethically disciplined both Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice, as their punishment was not consistent with the collective bargaining agreement. Smith said,
“We will continue to engage the league whether through litigation or collective bargaining about the personal conduct policy, and that will be ongoing.”
Smith also expounded upon the drug policy in which he termed a “joint drug policy”. Smith said,
“It’s just as much the players’ drug policy, just as much as it is the National Football League’s policy. …The men you see before you wanted a clean game, but we also wanted a policy that was fair.”
Smith and the NFLPA had to wait three years before a new drug policy was agreed upon with the national football league. Smith added,
“We signed the collective bargaining agreement in 2011; we finished the drug policy in 2014. …We wanted a HGH testing system that was fair. We wanted to give our players the ability and the right to challenge any test in front of a neutral arbitrator.”
Lastly, Smith broached the topic of player welfare. Smith and the NFLPA made the decision to increase the pension benefits of over seventeen hundred players that played between 1993-1996. Due to their inability to test free agency, players who played during those years were unable to maximize their earnings. As a result of their salaries being depressed, there was a cascading effect on their pensions as well. Smith lauded the members of the NFLPA for their ability and willingness to help former players. Smith said,
“This is a group of players that reached back to take care of players they have never met and never known to increase their pension benefit, and once again, that is what this union does.”
While Smith praised members of the NFLPA throughout his speech, his team is merely a reflection of his altruism and leadership. A true leader takes little more than his share of the blame, and often times a little less than his share of the credit. Smith’s servant leadership will continue to make the NFL a better place for present and future NFL players.
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