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A Look at the NFLPA’s Search for New Executive Director

Posted January 28th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

Last week the NFLPA’s Search Committee, comprised of six members of the union’s Executive Committee, trimmed their list of potential candidates for the Executive Director position to five.  The list of candidates was reduced a week after the Department of Labor received a letter from four congressmen asking if they would monitor the NFLPA’s process for finding a new Executive Director.  A copy of the letter from Congressman Edolphus Towns, Gregory Meeks, Bobby Rush, and G.K. Butterfield was also sent to NFLPA Interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen and union President Kevin Mawae.  The four congressmen requested that a “detailed disclosure and description report” be provided to them and the Department of Labor.

The letter from the congressmen also stated:

“We would like to ensure the integrity of the search process and that the process is transparent, fair and compliant with all applicable Department of Labor rules and regulations, and the NFLPA Constitution rules and by-laws,”

In response NFLPA President Kevin Mawae, who is himself a member of the search committee, said:

“While we respect the Congressmen’s right to ask about the process, I do not see how the transparency or legality of our search can be seriously questioned.  We have told our members from the beginning that it is a free and open process, and that they are all free to suggest candidates to the Search Committee or the search firm.  The members of our committee have been very conscientious about their roles, and they have worked very hard to do things the right way.”

The election process for a new Executive director is spelled out clearly in the NFLPA Constitution.  In November of 2008, the NFLPA President told The Associated Press that the selection procedure was still up in the air.

Mawae said the union has yet to determine whether the new executive director will be selected by a vote of the NFLPA’s 32 team player representatives or whether the search committee will make the decision on its own.

“There’s pros and cons to doing it either way,” Mawae said. “The last thing we want to do is do it in a way that’s going to cause us to pick the wrong person and have to do this process again in a couple of years.”

Here is what the NFLPA Constitution says about the selection process:

First, Article 4.01(b) states that the Executive Director is an administrative officer.

4.01(b) The principal administrative officer of the NFLPA shall be its Executive Director. The Executive Director shall be elected at the annual meeting of the Board of Player Representatives for a term of three (3) years and until his successor shall be duly qualified and elected. Written notification of the election of the Executive Director shall be sent to the Board of Player Representatives prior to the meeting in which the election is to take place. The Executive Committee shall negotiate his employment contract.

The Constitution then states that administrative officers are elected by the Board of Representatives.

4.02 The executive and administrative officers shall be elected by members of the Board of Representatives. Except as provided in Section 5.06, the incumbent President shall be without a vote.

The Board of Representatives is made of up the NFLPA President, the 32 Player Reps as elected by their respective teammates, and the current Executive Director.

5.01 The Board of Representatives shall consist of the President, one Player Representative from each club, and the Executive Director serving ex officio.

The NFLPA Constitution states to be eligible for election an Executive Director candidate must be endorsed by three members of the Board of Representatives at least ten days in advance of the election.

4.04 In order to be eligible for election as Executive Director, a candidate shall be required to have the written endorsement of no less than three (3) members of the Board of Representatives which shall be delivered to the President at least ten (10) days in advance of any election. A candidate for the office of Executive Director need not be a member in good standing of the NFLPA.

Lastly, the Constitution states that each player representative will have one vote for each dues paying member of the NFL team he represents.

5.06 Each member of the Board shall, in transacting the business of the Association, have one (1) vote for each current dues paying member from his team. The President shall have a vote only for purposes of breaking a tie vote of the Board of Representatives in matters other than officers’ elections.

The process laid out in the NFLPA Constitution is clear cut.  It does not sound like the procedure has been followed.  The list of candidates has been reduced to five by a search committee. What would happen if more candidates emerged with the endorsement of three members of the Board of Representatives?

With the NFLPA Executive Director position commanding a salary of over $6 million annually and the ability of the incoming Executive Director to bring in his own staff it is easy to see why people may be trying to exert their influence over the selection process.  With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement to be negotiated and $8 billion in annual NFL revenue on the line the influence may come from people within NFL management as well.

To view a copy of the NFLPA Constitution in its entirety you can click HERE.

5 Responses to “A Look at the NFLPA’s Search for New Executive Director”

  1. comment number 1 by: RetiredPlayers

    The history of the NFL is a reflection of the emergence of a sport that captures the national character and passion of our country. The history of labor relations within the NFL – indeed the history of the NFLPA – reflects the uneven progression from a loosely organized sport in an under funded league to the present day status of the NFL as the top sports league in the world.

    I feel that pensions for retired players have not kept pace with the benefits now enjoyed by all players in the league. My belief in the generational link that joins players in the NFL caused me to honor the
    1987 strike. In doing so, many of us lost a significant amount of money while simultaneously helping to create the condition that allows today’s players to succeed financially.

    The best way to honor the tradition of the NFL while also helping the majority of current players is to increase pension pay when retirees turn 55, 59 or 65, depending on when they elect to take it.

    Sadly, I have seen it over the years: many players lose their money and are left with nothing but debt. With the increased revenue, the best way to help all the players is to increase pension pay. This increased benefit will mean more to a majority of former players than any check the received while they were an active player.

    While the late Gene Upshaw was a tremendous force on and off the football field, I firmly believe that new union leadership should not come from a former player, but rather an experienced professional with significant labor law experience and proven business negotiation skills.
    We need the best minds to negotiate with the powerful billionaire owners.

    The most powerful sports unions (baseball and basketball) are not represented by former players but lawyers who had a substantial real world experience (just Google Donald Fher and Billy Hunter).

    I am confident that a person with this background will serve the players much better than any former player would. Gene Upshaw held all the voting power with the NFLPA. It was a great set up for him and whoever voted with him. (If you did not vote with him you would not have job with the NFLPA.) Gene’s accomplishments are well noted and respected.
    However with the significant money that professional football now generates on and off the field, the leagues needs a new approach to union leadership.

    There is a significant difference between competition on the football field – one team of eleven matched against another – with the challenge facing a union head in negotiations with the 32 of the richest and most powerful men in sports and business.

    It is time to move the NFLPA forward with professional representation that will allow past and present players to prosper along with the league now and for future generations.

    I believe the current and future issues and challenges facing the league and its players will require the strongest possible leadership by the NFLPA. I believe the stakes are far too high to pass the baton of leadership to another former player.

    Rick Graf

    Miami Dolphins 87-90

    Houston Oilers 91-92

    Washington Redskins 93-94

  2. comment number 2 by: Bob Davis

    Rich,
    As a former player in the late 60’s and 70’s, I could not agree with you more. We need a professional business person, not a player/player rep to handle our negotiaions.
    The baseball union is a perfect example of success, and a model we should follow. Our pension benefits pale in relation to their’s, and with the tremendous salaries, benefits, etc. of the current players, our pension benefits need to be increase by a significan amount.
    I am the president and CEO of a community bank in NJ. I make a good living, but the only pension I have is from the NFL. 7 years @ 65 with Joint and survivor benefits is not a hell of a lot of $$$$. My 401k plans have been decimated, so I will be working for another 5 years or more. I am 63.
    Let me know how I can help to put pressure on the NFLPA.
    Bob Davis
    NFL 67-73
    WFL 74-75
    President & CEO
    Rumson Fair-Haven Bank
    20 Bingham Ave
    Rumson, NJ 07760
    732-933-4445

  3. comment number 3 by: Daryl Sanders

    As I have stated previously- from my experience I have never met the player yet that found advantage negotiating with an owner.

  4. comment number 4 by: Speakyourmind

    A Washington Times article written July 2, 2008 NFLPA management accused the NFLPA Board of violating the union’s constitution and saying its proposal for hiring a consultant to find a search firm was void. Then in September 2008 a search firm was proposed and hired under interim Executive Director/General Counsel Richard Berthelsen.

    A Washington Post article written September 7, 2008 stated, “Berthelsen, 63, the union’s longtime general counsel who was named interim executive director following Upshaw’s death last month, said yesterday that he has told members of the players’ ruling executive committee they should seek a candidate more willing and able to commit to a lengthy stay as the leader of the union.”

    “I also have told them that the players deserve someone who could be there for 10 years or longer in that job…”

    However, NFLPA Constitution – Section 4.01(b) states:.. The Executive Director shall be elected at the annual meeting of the Board of Player Representatives for a term of three (3) years and until his successor shall be duly qualified and elected.

    In 1993 the Executive Director’s employment contract was negotiated for seven (7) years as well as subsequent contracts. Thus, it was written in Section 4.09 that the Executive Committee was authorized to enter into contracts of employment with the Executive Director and to fix salary and conditions of employment for a period less or greater than his term of office.

    Sections 401(b) and 4.09 are obfuscations and could cause conflict with the power of future Executive Committees and Boards as well as there also could be financial repercussions.

    Section 5.09 states that the two (2) most recent past Presidents shall serve with the Executive Committee as non-voting advisors. The current past Presidents should be Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent. See ESPN – Chris Mortensen April 11, 2008 – ” NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw has reached out to former players Trace Armstrong and Robert Smith about rejoining the union in a significant advisory capacity that will strategically fortify his front during unrest within the player ranks and a looming confrontation with NFL owners, sources said Friday.

    Armstrong is a past president of the NFLPA and Smith served on the union’s executive committee before both players retired.

    Armstrong expressed a willingness to accept Upshaw’s invitation, which he said would “not be a full-time job, simply make myself available on an as-needed basis.”

    “Gene and I had a great conversation [Thursday],” said Armstrong. “He’s aware of my support for him and the organization. I spent 14 years of my playing career as an active member and officer of the union. So my heart has never left the building and I strongly support the cause of players now and going forward.”

    Upshaw’s moves could create more controversy for the members of the union who want to accelerate a succession plan for Upshaw’s eventual departure as its leader, according to player sources. One player noted that outgoing NFLPA president Troy Vincent, who is considered a future candidate for Upshaw’s leadership position, was instrumental in removing Armstrong from the agent-disciplinary committee. Smith was adamant that he was never affected by Vincent’s rule as president.”

    NFLPA management had the opportunity in April 2008 to discipline Vincent. They did not. Vincent and others did not have the opportunity to face their accusers and defend themselves and have begrudgingly been treated unfairly by people who are playing judge, jury and prosecutor.

    Section 6.02 the Negotiating Committee shall consist of the Executive Committee including the Executive Director serving ex-officio. It has been rumored that Berthelsen is seeking an employment contract as a negotiator or consultant.

    The Executive Director hires the staff and other services. Berthelsen is an employee (General Counsel) and interim Executive Director. Attempts to negotiate a contract with the Executive Committee before a permanent replacement is made could undermine the power and authority of the incoming Executive Director and violate the NFLPA Constitution. There is also a NFLPA retirement at age 65 rule and it will nevertheless be necessary to fill the position of General Counsel in 2009.

    The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) restructured its Constitution in 2007 whereby the Executive Committee hires the General Counsel and Ombudsman as well as electing its Executive Director. The NFLPA however has no such provisions. On two occasions Berthelsen sought the position of Executive Director of the NHLPA.

    For all of the reasons stated above, including the advisory in the Associated Press article in November 2008, the NFLPA should be highly scrutinized by its membership – active and retired.

    There is a move towards “corporate unionism” which would essentially take away the ability of the players to control its own union. The Congressional letter to the Labor Department was appropriate. The media was instrumental in raising the awareness of the matter.

    It is not against the law for anyone to contact their Congressional representative. It is against the law, however, to retaliate against anyone who does, especially when it involves union activity and race relations.

    The NFLPA needs a leader who has a clear knowledge of the football business industry and has the ability to relate to all players. Criteria for the position has developed simultaneously with the selection process and it is subjective. It is time to build new leadership with transparency and CONFORMITY with the integrity of its foundation intact.

  5. comment number 5 by: Steve Kenney

    As a former player who has operated a real estate development business for the past 20 years I can assure you that the players are no match for the owners in matters off the field. We need honest, seasoned professionals who know the ropes and can negotiate with the best of them. It is scary how much I did not know 20 years ago when I opened my business. I made more dumb mistakes than I can count. We do not need a “rookie” running the show now like I was then.
    My strong recomendation is for a business professional who does this for a living. I think the search committee would be enhanced greatly if it included former players who understand business. I thought I knew everything when I retired in 1987 due to an injury. I was so wrong. I went through the strike in 1982 and wow were we overmatched! There was far too much cronyism then and I have no doubt it is the case now. I still remember Ed Garvey giving away the chance to have free agency in the 70’s and him staying on as the executive director until he handed the reins to Gene Upshaw when he stepped down. Please get it right this time. There are too many ex-players in need to get it wrong again.

    Stephen F. Kenney
    Phil Eagles 1979-1985
    Detroit Lions 1986

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