By Drew Davison
Cyrus Mehri has watched from afar for long enough. He has seen what he deems blunder after blunder by the NFL Players Association under DeMaurice Smith’s leadership.
So Mehri wants to challenge Smith to become the NFLPA’s executive director next March. Mehri announced his candidacy last month and held a town hall in the Dallas area Tuesday evening with a handful of former players including Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary and longtime Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston.
No current players attended the meeting.
But Mehri has plenty of ideas that could be of interest to current players, beginning with league discipline.
If Deflategate wasn’t enough, players should now be fully aware of commissioner Roger Goodell’s power via “Article 46” in the collective bargaining agreement in the wake of the controversial suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, stemming from domestic violence allegations in July 2016.
Elliott and the NFLPA’s current leadership are fighting that suspension in court. But Mehri believes the union shouldn’t have handed Goodell that sort of power in the first place.
“He [Smith] gave the commissioner a blank check on discipline. The consequences of that is having a process that doesn’t have independence, doesn’t have checks and balances, that lacks credibility,” said Mehri, a civil rights attorney who made a name for himself within football circles by playing a significant role in the NFL adopting the “Rooney Rule,” which pushed diversity of NFL coaching hires.
“If I’m elected, in the first 100 days I’m going to sit down with the commissioner and top brass and reform this discipline system, so we’ll have checks and balances for when the 2018 season starts up.
“My guiding light is this: What’s best for the game? … I’ve taken the word ‘concessions’ out of the dialogue, and all we’re going to be talking about is what’s best for the game. What’s best for the game is to reform that system. What’s also best for the game is to dramatically improve the resources particularly at the club level to deal with and minimize and prevent from happening some of these off-the-field issues.
“Issues of DUIs. Issues of drug abuse. Issues of domestic violence that have kept players from playing, and they’re also human tragedies. So if we really redouble or triple the effort on that, to me, that’s something labor and management should be on the same page on, which is prevention of problems.
“That’s the difference between me and the incumbent [Smith], because the incumbent’s relationship is so poisonous and so contentious [with the NFL] that they can’t be problem-solving, but problem-solving is focusing on prevention of these issues.”
Mehri has other visions such as implementing a monthly “Talking Tuesday” where players can speak up on social issues they’re passionate about. He’d also like to expand rosters to 60, reduce the preseason to three games and, of course, be instrumental in revamping the collective bargaining agreement that expires in 2021.
Mehri has gained momentum with Hall of Famers such as Bob Lilly, Jim Brown, “Mean” Joe Greene, Kellen Winslow, Harry Carson and Singletary endorsing him. He’s set up a website, cyrus4nflpa.com, that lays out his plans for all to see.
But Mehri faces an immediate hurdle with a 14-member selection committee voting in mid-October whether to sign Smith to a contract extension without a March 2018 election.
Mehri described this as a “secret constitution” by the current NFLPA administration. But he is hopeful he’s created enough buzz to challenge Smith and possibly others in an open election like it’s been done in years past.
“This shows how insecure the incumbent must be if he’s afraid to stand for re-election,” Mehri said. “This is a game about competition. Every day NFL players compete for jobs. Compete to win. And if I’m elected as executive director, I’m going to be ready to stand for re-election because I know if I face competition, I’ll be a better executive director.
“This generation of NFL players faces a crossroads because their labor movement within the NFL has taken a major step backwards under the current administration.”