Smith can be unifying force for NFLPA

DeMaurice Smith walked into the NFLPA meetings in Maui over the weekend and spoke boldly about his litigating background, presented an infectious energy and a comprehensive plan to move the group forward.

He struck a uniting chord with membership across the board.

There was an originality with Smith that swung the vote for executive director his way.

“His energy is impressive and he was very prepared in a way that you could see why he has been such a successful attorney,” Buffalo Bills player representative and defensive back George Wilson said via telephone on Monday morning from Maui. “He impressed us all with the fact that he was under consideration recently to become U.S. attorney general. Right now, he is the right fit at the right time.”

The multitude of NFLPA issues — improved benefits for current and (especially) retired players, an improved free agency plan, player safety concerns and much more — appeared to be dwarfed in this vote by two primary issues: Which of the candidates can best represent the players and battle toe-to-toe with the league in an effort to create a new collective bargaining agreement and avoid a 2011 lockout? And, which candidate could best mend and untie a body of men splintered during this process?

Smith, 45, a Washington, D.C., partner at Patton Boggs, was the answer.

It became clear in Maui that the other three finalist — former players and NFLPA presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, and attorney David Cornwell — had strong, segmented camps of support and that electing any of them would have resulted in a more difficult task of coalescing the entire group.

“I would say that all issues were taken into account,” Wilson said. “Of course, the CBA is definitely a hot topic right now. But I think getting us all on the same page and setting the right tone across the body is the central issue. It was good to see everyone here put all of their differences aside and come together on one accord. It has been a long, tough process. This is about getting the entire ship going in the right direction. You cannot enter where we are about to enter and all be on different pages.”

Thus, Smith helped create a bond in a field of candidates where players’ passions were so divisively split.

“He’s the man,” Wilson said. “It’s a new day in the `PA.’”

— Thomas George

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