View Full Version : On The Steelers: The NFLPA is listening, really

01-02-2011, 09:43 AM
On The Steelers: The NFLPA is listening, really
Sunday, January 02, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In a fit of frustration one month ago, Steelers defensive captain James Farrior wondered why his union kept quiet while the NFL continually whacked Steelers with fine after fine.

"Where is DeMaurice Smith when all this is going on?" Farrior asked about the NFL Players Association executive director. "He is supposed to be our leader. I haven't heard him one time. We are on our own right now. It is just one guy making all the rules up and doling out the fines. There is nothing we can do about it."

Smith answered Farrior's question this past week even before the NFL announced a stunning reversal on one of those fines.

"We have been very aggressive in response to the fines that have been levied," Smith said in an interview with the Post-Gazette. "We've appealed all of them."

It appears the work by Smith and the union earned linebacker James Harrison some measure of satisfaction, although not as much as he would have liked. Thursday, the NFL announced that it had reduced his $75,000 fine, the largest in the league, to $50,000 for his hit Oct. 17 on Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

It brings Harrison's total in four fines this season down to $100,000, and Bill Parise, his agent, has an appeal scheduled Tuesday to reduce the $25,000 fine the NFL levied for a hit Nov. 28 on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Still, Smith agrees with the Steelers that the appeals process must be changed.

"I know the Steelers are frustrated," Smith said, "and to me it underscores or emphasizes what we have been and what the players really have been complaining about for decades -- in the NFL, there is no independent arbitrator of fines or punishments. It goes to two hearings officers and the appeal is reviewed by a league official.

"Basketball has an independent arbitrator, baseball has an independent arbitrator, and so does hockey. We're the only sport that does not."

Smith promised that the union will fight to have an independent arbitrator in the next collective bargaining agreement, and he also pledged to fight against expanding the regular season to 18 games.

"We intend to be meeting with the NFL over the fines -- the players, the amount, the consistency of enforcement," Smith said.

"Take the case of Harrison's fines. When your appeal goes to the same office that imposes the fines, it's not exactly the epitome of due process. In every case, the appeal of those fines was upheld by a league officer who hears appeals."

Besides the fines, Steelers players also have been outspoken against an 18-game schedule and called the NFL and owners pushing for it hypocritical for preaching safety while wanting to add two games to the schedule.

Smith said he agreed with them on that matter as well. "When the league apparently wants to make a decision to increase fines in the name of player safety, I find that wholly inconsistent with a desire that they have for our players to play 18 games."

There is a general belief throughout the league that an 18-game schedule is a fait accompli.

"I'm not sure I would say that because, look, the players don't want to play 18 games," Smith said, "and, right now, there's a proposal on the table from the league that does not address the health and safety concerns of the players, and we rejected it.

"I think what unfortunately happens is you hear something like 18 games, you hear the players are against it, you hear the league wants it and because people are used to covering football in a certain way, 'Well, if the owners want it, it will happen.' Well, I'm not so sure."

Smith also noted the hypocrisy of the league's stated push to protect the health of its players while at the same time threatening to cancel their health insurance.

"The league moved to cancel the players health insurance in March if there's a lockout. You're either a proponent of overall health and safety or you're not. I'm not sure taking a position where you can fine your way to health and safety is the ultimate answer."

Smith and the union are in the middle of the issue of fines vs. player safety, but he says it's not a conflict of interest for him and the NFLPA.

"I represent the guy who delivers the hit and the guy who got hit. I look at it as a player-safety issue first and foremost, but I also have to have the luxury of treating anything in isolation.

"Does that mean I ignore arbitrary or inappropriate fines? No. It's false to say I have to choose between player safety or agree to an arbitrary fine.

"No, it doesn't put me in a hard or difficult position alone."

Pro Bowl: Bigger would be better

Baseball rosters are set at 25 during the season, yet for the All-Star Game, each team has 32 on its roster.

Football rosters are set at 53 (46 on game days), yet the Pro Bowl roster is 46 for each team. Baseball has nine starters. Football has 22, not counting kickers and punters.

It is time for the NFL to expand its Pro Bowl rosters. At many positions, there are two starters and just one backup -- cornerback, safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, inside linebacker. Yet three quarterbacks are chosen.

There also are inequities if a team plays a 3-4 defense such as the Steelers. The Pro Bowl has spots for only three inside linebackers, while there are six defensive linemen chosen -- three at end, three at tackle -- in an era where the 4-3 defense is giving way to the 3-4.

It is time to expand the Pro Bowl rosters to at least the 53 teams can carry during the regular season.

A season without a snap

Byron Leftwich has been a quarterback in the NFL since 2003. He played five seasons at Marshall University starting in 1998. He has never gone through a football season without taking a snap in a real game.

Until now.

Leftwich was deemed the starting quarterback for the first four games of the season while Ben Roethlisberger served his suspension, but his knee was sprained in the final preseason game, and Leftwich watched as Dennis Dixon and then Charlie Batch played the first four games.

Healthy since, Leftwich has been the No. 2 quarterback, but Roethlisberger has not missed a snap since his return, playing through a broken foot and a broken nose.

"All the backup quarterbacks around the league want to play," Leftwich said. "But, at the same time, we understand that we have to be here if called upon, and my name hasn't been called yet, but I'll be ready if it does."

He said he has no regrets re-signing with the Steelers and would like to go 2 for 2 with them. He was Roethlisberger's backup in 2008 when they won the Super Bowl, then signed with Tampa Bay for one season as a free agent.

"No, I wouldn't change it for the world. I love playing for this organization and love playing for Mike Tomlin," he said.

Leftwich signed a two-year contract, through next season.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11002/1114981-66.stm#ixzz19tQs5sas