Last week, ESPN.com published an article that spanned more than 10 years and 10,000 words regarding the NFL Players Association and, more importantly, the tenure of executive director DeMaurice Smith. The article drew the usual perfunctory praise that #longreads do from those in the media who regard it as a lost art form but who fail to realize it is, in most instances, a very bad business model.
There wasn’t much news in the article, but for the compelling 2011 Goodfellas-style exchange between former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and former NFLPA executive committee member (and eventual union president) Domonique Foxworth, along with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones partially reprising Dwight Schrute’s verbal essay on barnyard sexual acts.
“Look, my daddy grew up on a farm in southwest Missouri,” Jones reportedly said during the 2011 negotiations. “Every so often in the spring, the wind would come from a different part of the country, and the moon would set a different way, and the owls would start f–king the chickens. . . . The owls are f—ing the chickens.”
Explains Tretter in the preamble, “I won’t spend my time here debating who ‘won’ or ‘lost’ CBA negotiations, as there is rarely ever a clear winner. I also won’t respond to any of the anonymous quotes, as I find it a waste of time to fight with shadows. However, there are several issues in the article that are provably false or misrepresented, and I do intend to correct that misinformation. My goal is to share the facts and provide as much evidence as I can to inform our player membership.”
First, Tretter addresses the 2016 changes to the process for picking an executive director. The ESPN.com article creates the impression, via the use of quotes from Cyrus Mehri (who tried to run against Smith in 2018), that the fix was in — and that Smith basically manipulated the right people to make a change that would make it harder for him to be challenged in an election.
“I find it incredibly insulting for Cyrus Mehri to say, ‘you can control 14 people pretty easy,'” Tretter writes. “The 14 people he is referencing are some of the most well-respected men in the NFL. They consist of the 11-man Executive Committee, which is voted on by the Board of Reps to become deeply educated about union issues and represent all players on those issues. The other three players are the longest serving reps from across the league.”
Then there’s the likely reality, not mentioned by Tretter, that the umpteen-candidate free-for-all triggered the effort to change the election process, requiring the union to first decide that it wants to explore other options before opening the floodgates to another potential clusterfudge.
Tretter also takes issue with the effort to suggest that the union made improper payments to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, apparently as a quid pro quo for his “strong support of Smith.”
“Drew Brees served on the Executive Committee from 2008-2014,” Tretter writes. “During his tenure, he earned a reputation among NFLPA staff and his fellow player leaders as a devoted union advocate who cares fiercely about his fellow players. It’s a sentiment I echo — six years removed from being on the EC, Drew was one of the first players to reach out to me and offer support when I became NFLPA President. In any case, the article suggests Drew received (and by implication, accepted) improper funds/favors from the NFLPA while serving on the EC. After documented proof provided by our union and Drew’s agent, a review by outside ‘experts’ and ESPN’s own conclusion of no wrongdoing, I can think of no other reason for publishing this harmful and reputation-damaging claim other than to attempt to divide the NFLPA.”
The ESPN.com article also suggests that “Smith had won” when the union decided not to allow players to change their vote on the 2020 CBA.
“This is another mischaracterization of the facts,” Tretter writes. “At last year’s Rep Meeting, two resolutions were submitted by players on the second day as we were discussing the voting process for the pending CBA. These resolutions were put to a vote of our player leaders. The first resolution was to extend the voting deadline in order to make sure all players had sufficient time to make an informed decision. That resolution was voted on by the Board of Reps and passed. The second resolution proposed was offered up to allow players who had already submitted a vote on the CBA to change it. That resolution was sent to a vote by the Board of Reps and it did not pass. How do I know? Because I was there, and ESPN did not even bother to reach out to me about any of this.”
Tretter concludes with this message: “I was able to dig up the facts on these issues in the last week. I find it troubling that journalists who spend multiple months ‘researching’ these topics still can’t land remotely close to the truth, which, in this article’s case, makes me wonder if they didn’t do the proper vetting and research they claimed to, or they simply chose to ignore the facts that would have taken the ‘scandal’ out of the story.”
Although reasonable minds may differ on this, the ESPN.com article fairly could be read as an effort to smear Smith. The one thing to remember regarding the job he has done since 2009 is that he has one hand essentially tied behind his back in all negotiations with the NFL, because even though the owners would willingly take a shutdown of the sport for one year or more to achieve their broader financial goals, pro football players simply aren’t wired to give up game checks.