NFL says players guilty of distortion
By Carl Prine and Scott Brown
Friday, October 8, 2010
The NFL has hit back at several Steelers players, accusing them of distorting what happened during a mandatory Tuesday meeting on the eve of a unanimous vote to decertify the union.
The pros and the National Football League Players Association are smacking back, saying the league tried to manipulate players before they took the vote to scrap their union — a potential labor strategy that ultimately could lead to owners losing anti-trust exemptions provided by Congress unless a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is inked between players and management.
NFL owners have threatened to lock out the players if a deal isn't reached by March. Quarterback Charlie Batch, safety Ryan Clark and other players complained to the union and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that a delegation led by embattled former union president Troy Vincent and former NFL Alumni director George Martin sought to mix mandatory "life skills" teaching with lobbying for the owners.
"Doesn't matter what the meeting was for, players around the league know what this is about," Clark said.
NFL officials, however, say Clark and his union made inaccurate conclusions about the session.
They say that months before the union threatened to decertify, Steelers player development director Ray Jackson set up the Tuesday panel. It was composed of former NFL players Wil Wolford, Emanuel Martin and George Martin to answer financial, off-field conduct and other questions by today's younger pros.
With the Steelers currently in their bye week, coach Mike Tomlin introduced the session, which was monitored by the union's player development manager Leslie Satchell. Vincent, 39, a former All-Pro cornerback who has been accused of conspiring with league brass to scuttle the union while he was at the helm, attended as the NFL's vice president of player development.
That troubled several players because in July Vincent and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were hit with subpoenas sent by the union. The players have sought information about their relationship before Vincent got hired by the NFL.
Vincent also was mentioned in a lawsuit brought by former union director of human relations Mary Moran, who claims she was fired after it was discovered she secretly gave information to U.S. Department of Labor investigators probing the matter.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said no labor issues were discussed except when standout safety Troy Polamalu asked the panel what it was like going through the two labor strikes in the 1980s.
"It is one thing to disagree about issues," Aiello said. "It's quite another to distort facts in a way that demeans former players and former NFLPA leaders. There is no place for that in these discussions."
Players and union leaders, however, said it's impossible to discuss financial planning without dealing with the obvious fact that athletes could lose paychecks if the owners opt for the lockout.
Batch, a member of the NFLPA executive committee, said the players can't sign a new CBA until the owners disclose their profits.
"They're not willing to do that," he said of owners opening their financial books. "It's still the same thing that I've always talked about as far their position."