The NFL Players Association re-elected incumbent Executive Director DeMaurice Smith early Monday morning. This year's election had swollen to nine candidates, many of whom were ridiculous and under-qualified, but there had been a growing sense that the players were increasingly unhappy with Smith and could make a change. Instead, Smith won a third term as head of the union.
Smith needed just one ballot to take the victory, meaning he received at least 17 votes from the 32 active player representatives. (He'd reportedly been straw-polling around 12-15 votes.) This is important because of the way the NFLPA election works. If no candidate has a majority after one round of voting, the lowest vote-getter is thrown out and votes are re-cast. This means that if Smith's first run had come up short, a contingent of dissatisfied representatives could have thrown their lots in with one candidate.
Reportedly, Smith gained a lot of credit from players for the NFLPA's victories for winning public victories in the appeals of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Given the obviousness of the cases (and the labor-friendly judges on the bench for them), it would have been nearly impossible for the union to lose either appeal, but that didn't seem to come into consideration.
Going into the vote, word out of Hawaii was that things were not running smoothly:
This is the most NFL thing possible. Here's the NFLPA, up to its medial temporal lobe in dopey candidates precisely because of its Keystone Kops routine in beatdown after beatdown from the league office, deciding that a rigid adherence to bylaw stricture is more important than giving its members a chance to spend a few extra minutes talking plainly to potential leaders. At this point, the union may as well start fining candidates for wearing the wrong color socks to closing statements.
By the time voting was set to begin, a surprising No. 1 contender had emerged:
Yes, that's John Stufflebeem the former Vice Admiral and fighter pilot who was demoted and fired for lying about, among other things, nailing a federal employee in the White House.
The presumptive favorite to lead the challengers had been Jason Belser, who was a surprise addition to the ballot after having jumped into the mix at the last minute, didn't appear to rate, and will now have to return to working with Smith after trying to blindside him out of a job. Neither did Sean Gilbert, the former player who is on 100 percent permanent disability from the NFL but still applying for this job.
(Gilbert added one last dash of slapstick to the proceedings, at least. He used his time to agitate for players to look to alternate revenue streams, like setting up an alternate league in the case of a lockout and selling the rights to internet streaming companies, or setting up its own fantasy football service. He was even more forceful in his support of an 18-game season, and also unveiled his main weapon in a collusion-based angle to void the CBA, which was an interpretation of phrasing he believes entitles players to fully guaranteed contracts, and that owners are colluding not to enact it in good faith. It did not appear to get much traction.)
So, De Smith hangs onto his job for three more years. We'll be back here in 2018 for the next election, which is the important one in the run-up for the expiration of the CBA in 2021, assuming the CBA isn't voided before then. But as we've seen from Michele Roberts, war-planning for a labor clash begins years in advance of the actual lockout. With this election result, the players have decided to prepare for the next CBA campaign exactly the way they prepared for the last.
Photo via AP