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NFLPA director supports college players' union

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NEW YORK -- DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, roundly applauded the effort by Northwestern football players striving to form a union.

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"You can rarely understand what courage it would take to step out of that role as an athlete who generally responds to whatever a coach says," Smith said.

Colter called the NCAA a dictatorship at a press conference on Tuesday. Colter, who is training to enter the 2014 NFL Draft, was not in attendance for the NFLPA press conference on Thursday at the Sheraton New York. But College Athletes Players Association founder and president Ramogi Huma was in the ballroom and was recognized by Smith.

"Kain Colter, quarterback for the Northwestern football team, wanted to be here today, but he is having ankle surgery," Smith said, asking Huma to stand to be recognized for breaking the unwritten rule to never go after the 'moneymakers.' "Athletes who play for state universities will never have to worry about injuries they suffer playing for a state university.

"To all of those brave athletes at Northwestern: Each of you has decided to stand up for players you may never meet, players you may never know."

Smith emphasized historical labor fights, including in 1956 in which, at the Waldorf Astoria just a few blocks away in New York City, then-players Don Shula and Frank Gifford decided to fight for players' rights.

Owners responded to that formation of the union "by doing something insidious. They ignored us," Smith said.

Smith also compared Colter and Northwestern players to the March 11, 2011, class action complaint in which plaintiffs Tom Brady, Ben Leber, Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, Peyton Manning and others marked a legal line in the sand by filing a federal suit in Minnesota court in response to the NFL owners' lockout that lasted 136 days.

"You are not alone," Smith said. "We're going to be with you 100 percent."

  • Smith said no good was served by the two sides of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito investigation. The players' union completed its own investigation, but Martin did not participate.

"We have an expectation about how our players should conduct themselves in the business of football and our players reflect that," Smith said.

The NFLPA leadership will discuss releasing the results of its investigation, but the findings and recommendations on the "sanctity and safety" of the workplace will be released, Smith said.

  • The NFLPA and NFL agreed to a population study, the results of which would set a decision limit with scientific backing and the fines for HGH violations. The only issue, Smith said, is neutral arbitration.

"The two exceptions the league wants: one in which a player has been adjudicated as violating the drug policy and two, based on evidence the player has been in violation of the drug policy. The best example of that is Alex Rodriguez's situation," Smith said. "Our players are not in agreement to those carve-outs."

Smith said he champions the drug policy and its framework to update and modify it.

"I commend the NFL -- when you have a system where you are willing to engage in transparency, that demonstrates the strength and belief that you have in your system," Smith said.

  • In 2013, Smith released the results of a player survey that more than half of players were discouraged and distrusted medical personnel. Smith said it is important for the NFLPA to be able to confidentially talk to players and would not elaborate on the progress in medical standards one year later.
  • The NFLPA expects to wrap up an investigation of the release of Josh Freeman's medical history while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After being benched, suspended and then released, word leaked that Freeman was in the NFL drug program. Freeman maintains that he voluntarily entered the program.
  • When the signing period begins in March, the league will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of free agency with headliners including Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
  • Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was presented four signed jerseys -- Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, CB Richard Sherman and Broncos LB Von Miller and CB Champ Bailey -- from two players from each of the Super Bowl XLVIII teams for display at the newest Smithsonian museum. "We'll be able to capture a new generation of athletes who will leave their mark," Bunch said. The museum will open in two years.
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