This weekend the NFLPA’s Board of Player Representatives will hold their annual meeting in Maui. Obviously, the biggest task at hand for the player reps is electing a new NFLPA Executive Director. The 32 reps are set to vote for the Gene Upshaw’s replacement after hearing one hour presentations from each candidate and then meeting with the candidates in smaller “breakout” groups. This will be the first and only chance for player reps to hear from the candidates before casting their votes.
The search process for the next Executive Director has been extremely controversial. An outside search firm was hired and a six member search committee narrowed the list of candidates to three. During the process rumors have swirled around the two candidates who are former players. There have been allegations of conflicts of interest, failed business ventures, and even criminal associations. A congressional inquiry looked into the integrity of the NFLPA’s search process.
Joseph Yablonski, a longtime outside attorney for the NFLPA, was hired by the union to investigate alleged misconduct by former NFLPA President and Executive Director candidate Troy Vincent. Yablonski’s objectivity has been questioned because of his 25 year relationship with the union.
“The fact that the NFLPA has hired an attorney to investigate one of the final candidate’s actions should raise red flags all over the place, including both internally and externally,” said Ian Pulver, who worked for more than a decade as the associate counsel of the NHLPA and now is an NHL agent. “The smoke signals emanating from the search process lead me to believe that the players may be wise to scrap the entire process and start over.”
In what some have viewed as dissatisfaction with the search process, attorney David Cornwell was reinstated as a candidate after receiving the endorsement of three player representatives. Cornwell was previously eliminated as a candidate by the search committee in January.
With $8 billion dollars of NFL revenue on the line each year and 32 NFL owners determined to get concessions from the union in the next round of CBA negotiations, the players need to prove that the majority of the membership supports the next Executive Director. NFL owners may look to take advantage of the players if they aren’t completely behind Upshaw’s replacement.
With the lack of input from the NFLPA rank-and-file, a highly criticized search process, and an incomplete investigation into one of the candidates, the NFLPA should scrap the current search. They should start fresh with a search that includes the input of the entire membership rather than just a select few.
Allow all players to learn about the qualifications and positions of the candidates. Recognizing what’s at stake for players, you would expect a thorough evaluation of the four candidates to last more than a weekend.
It seems the current search process has focused more on satisfying the union’s administrative staff than serving the NFLPA’s dues paying membership. NFL owners are well aware that players have been unable to unite and stage a successful work stoppage or endure a lockout in the past. Leadership is critical for the players, but so is their unity. The best way to unite the players is to allow all of them access to the process to choose the best candidate. That candidate will ultimately lead them into the next round of collective bargaining.