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Attorney Smith elected NFLPA executive director

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[March 16, 2009]  WAILEA, Hawaii (AP) -- DeMaurice Smith was elected Sunday as the new executive director of the NFL Players Association, succeeding the late Gene Upshaw and challenged with leading the union into a critical new era.

Smith was chosen as the union's fourth leader in its 41-year history, and follows Upshaw, who died in August. The NFL outsider has served as an attorney in Washington.

"Guys, let's get to work," Smith told the membership when the vote was announced.

"The men here today made a decision to be unified to take a strong step forward to build upon the leadership of Mr. Upshaw and stand together as a family."

Smith was elected by a vote behind closed doors at the posh Fairmont Kea Lani resort on the island of Maui where the union has been meeting. The player reps heard from the four candidates Saturday and once again Sunday, with the candidates providing their closing arguments before the voting began by secret ballot.

They reps emerged with their selection 90 minutes later.


Smith is NFL outsider who has no labor law experience, but has ties to President Barack Obama and worked with new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He's a trial lawyer and partner at the influential Washington-based Patton Boggs, and chair of the firm's government investigations and white collar practice group. He has represented Fortune 500 companies in numerous cases. A native Washingtonian, Smith earned his law degree at Virginia in 1989, and has been a frequent guest commentator on many cable television news programs.

Despite his lack of familiarity to NFL players, he beat out three strong contenders: former NFLPA presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, and sports attorney David Cornwell, who re-emerged as a candidate after receiving the necessary written support of three player reps.

"Mr. Smith is our best option of leading us into the future and we're proud to be a part of it," Rams offensive lineman Adam Goldberg said. "He has a very, very infectious energy about him. When he's excited about something, everybody in the room is excited. He's going to be a great leader for us. I'm proud to be a part of it. I can't wait to facilitate our agenda for the rest of our term."

In a statement, the NFL said: "We congratulate DeMaurice Smith and look forward to working with him and the NFLPA board to ensure the continued health and growth of our game."

Smith is now faced with uniting the ranks as the NFLPA looks ahead to numerous challenges following 25 years under Upshaw.

This is a pivotal juncture in the union's history.

In the coming months, the new director will enter talks with the NFL after owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement last year. If a new deal is not struck within two years, there is a chance for a work stoppage affecting the 2011 season, threaten the NFL's long history of labor peace, which has allowed it to flourish for much of the past two decades.

Compounding the importance of the negotiations is an economic meltdown that could damage the NFL's revenue-generating ability and entrench owners to hold their ground in seeking givebacks from players. Owners argue that the current agreement is too favorable for players, who get about 60 percent of applicable revenues.

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The NFLPA has countered, citing a union-commissioned study that showed the average value of the teams has grown from $288 million to $1.04 billion over 10 years, an increase of about 14 percent a year.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has already raised the possibility of a rookie salary cap, a move that would significantly pare the multi-million-dollar deals going to unproven first-round draft picks.

Another unresolved issue is the rift that's grown between the union and its retired players, some of whom feel disenfranchised. A host of former stars, including Pro Football Hall of Fame members Mike Ditka, Herb Adderley and Joe DeLamielleure, have been increasingly critical of the union over its health benefits and pension plan, which pays some retired players only hundreds of dollars a month.

NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, the center for the Tennessee Titans, called the vote a "legacy decision for the organization to move forward."

Smith's election concludes a long, divisive and unpredictable seven-month search process in which Vincent was the target of numerous attacks -- many of them anonymous -- questioning his character and business background. Vincent was also briefly removed from contention in December, but was placed back on the list at the prompting of executive committee member Mike Vrabel, a linebacker for Kansas City.

Cornwell was also eliminated from contention in January, then re-emerged. But the choice was Smith.

The vote was tabulated and verified by accounting firm KMH LLP of Honolulu.

[Associated Press; By JAYMES SONG]

AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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