Players' side considers possible decertification of union
By Mark Maske
DALLAS--DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, left open the possibility Thursday that the players will decertify the union in a bid to prevent a lockout by the sport's franchise owners beginning next month.
"In the past when our union had to decertify to achieve free agency, that's what it did," Smith said at the union's annual news conference during Super Bowl week. "When the union decertified, historically it was a decision based upon protecting the interests of players of tomorrow, players of the day and players that played this game. So we will always take the steps that we need to protect our players and protect our interests."
The move, if taken by the players, would put the union in effect out of business as a bargaining agent for the players. It would create the possibility of the players filing an antitrust lawsuit against the owners. Players have voted to authorize the prospective decertification of the union.
Experts have said that decertification of the union by the players potentially could lead the owners to abandon plans for a lockout because if they proceed without a lockout under those circumstances, it could be cited in any antitrust litigation by the players. It's not certain, however, how the owners would react to decertification.
Players decertified the union in the past, and the sport's longstanding system of free agency and a salary cap originally was put in place in the early 1990s as part of a settlement of antitrust litigation by the players.
The current labor deal between the owners and players expires March 4, and the players have predicted a lockout by the owners at that point.
"I believe that the league has taken steps to effectuate a lockout for a very long time.... Only one side can lock us out," Smith said Thursday.
Smith called the disagreements between the union and the owners over the economics of the sport "fundamental." He said it would be "irresponsible" for the owners to lock out the players with the league financially healthy.
"The business of football is probably the best business economic model in the country because that $9 billion [in annual NFL revenues] was generated during the worst recession of our lives," Smith said.
The union continued to call on the league to provide more information to the players' side about the finances of the teams.
"We don't have the necessary information we feel like we need to get a deal done," said Kevin Mawae, the retired center who is the union's president.
Smith said he is "somewhat optimistic" about the negotiations with the owners that are scheduled to resume Saturday in the Dallas area with the first full bargaining session between the two sides since before Thanksgiving. But he also said the league's proposal to lengthen the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team "is not in the best interests of players of the National Football League."
February 3, 2011; 8:20 PM ET
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