After nearly seven months of extensive searching, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) entered a new era by voting attorney DeMaurice Smith as its new Executive Director yesterday.
Nearly 70 player representatives, including Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, center Matt Birk and long-time kicker Matt Stover gathered in Maui, Hawaii to listen to the candidates present their cases. Other candidates included former NFLPA presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, as well as attorney David Cornwell.
The 45-year-old Smith will succeed the late Gene Upshaw, who died last August only three days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"I'm humbled by their decision," Smith said in a statement. "I'm honored and proud to lead a great group of men. I think we understand the challenges that face us but we also understand the strength of our unity."
Among those challenges will be to maintain labor peace in a league that has gone 16 years without a work stoppage, the longest among active sports leagues. When NFL owners opted out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement last April, they triggered an impending negotiation of a new labor deal.
Smith, a trial lawyer and litigation partner with the D.C. law firm Patton Boggs, was unanimously elected by the 32-man Board of Player Representatives, of which Mason is a member, on the first ballot. He will serve a three-year term.
The process to elect Smith has been ongoing since shortly after Upshaw's death when a search committee was appointed, which included Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth. Reilly Partners, a Chicago search firm, was also brought in to assist with the process.
Smith was considered by many a dark horse to be elected because of his lack of substantial NFL ties. But Smith prepared an impressive, detail-oriented presentation of how he would lead the union through this significant step, according to Don Banks of SI.com.
"The Board of Player Representatives made a decision today that will chart the course of this organization," said current NFLPA President Kevin Mawae of the Titans. "This decision is a legacy decision. It is one that will unify and strengthen the National Football League Players Association."
"There won't be much of a honeymoon period for [Smith]," Banks wrote. "Before he begins preparing for the start of tough collective bargaining negotiations with the NFL that will come later this year, there will be some fence-mending to do within the ranks of the union's leadership."