By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
January 17, 2018
It is widely believed that the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) does the worst job representing its players of all the pro sports league player unions in the country.
Enter Cyrus Mehri, one of the nation’s most effective social justice and worker rights lawyers. He is currently campaigning to replace current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.
Mehri has been called “Corporate America’s Scariest Opponent” by Workforce magazine.
In 2002, Mehri was a driving force in exposing the NFL’s discriminatory hiring processes for head coaches. As a result, the NFL eventually implemented the “Rooney Rule” diversity plan, which included the requirement that each team interview at least one minority candidate prior to selecting a head coach.
In a recent interview, Mehri was blunt in describing the problems he sees with the current NFLPA leadership. Here is an excerpt of that interview:
Reed: What’s your quick analysis of the current situation with the NFLPA?
Mehri: What we’re fighting, with the current leadership of the NFLPA, headed by DeMaruice Smith, is the corporate takeover of a major union. Smith comes out of a corporate law background. He brought in some other corporate law cronies to help run the union. They don’t have true worker rights people running the union and they are making anti-union, anti-player choices. The NFL situation is treasonous in the labor movement.
The bottom line is, the NFLPA is a union that has lost its way, that doesn’t have worker rights in their DNA. The only way NFL players are going to be properly represented is if you have worker rights leaders running the show.
Reed: What has been the tangible effect of having a union leader with a corporate background like Smith’s?
Mehri: There aren’t deliverables to the players. They forfeited billions of dollars that under the prior CBA would’ve gone to the players and instead now go to the owners. And then Smith entered into a 10-year CBA deal. Every other deal in the labor movement is 4-6 years. In effect, Smith has robbed the players of their economic well being by entering into the worst CBA of all-time.
Smith also gave the NFL commissioner unchecked power on discipline. He robbed players of their dignity by not requiring checks and balances in the player discipline process.
Reed: At what point did you decide to run for executive director of the NFLPA?
Mehri: Well, in the months leading up to the time I announced in August of 2017, I spoke to several NFL Hall-of-Famers who really wanted me to run. I had certain criteria before I would run. One was that we needed to articulate our ideas regarding why I would run into a vision statement. We put that together. We also put together an “Anti-Union Choices, Anti-Player Results” report and delivered that to player leaders.
Basically, I wanted the support of certain people I really respected in the NFL Hall-of-Fame community. When they said we really need you to do it that was kind of decisive for me.
Reed: You’ve said your plan is to make the NFLPA a worker rights union. How would you describe a “worker rights” union?
Mehri: Well, first of all, respect the players and talk to them in meaningful ways. Make sure their voices are heard. Make sure the players are treated with dignity.
Two, make sure the players get a fair economic deal, leveling the playing field.
Right now, the NFL players have the worst of all worlds. They have the shortest careers, the least pay, the greatest health and safety risks, and the worst representation of any major players union in the country.
The current NFL players are essentially doomed if they don’t regain control of their union from Smith and his leadership team.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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