- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

WAILEA, HAWAII (AP) - DeMaurice Smith was elected Sunday as the new executive director of the NFL Players Association on Sunday, succeeding the late Gene Upshaw and challenged with leading the union into a critical new era.

Smith was chosen Sunday as the union’s fourth leader in its 41-year history, and follows Upshaw, who died in August. The NFL outsider has served as an attorney in Washington.

“Let’s get to work,” Smith told the membership when the vote was announced.

Smith was elected by a vote behind closed doors at the posh Fairmont Kea Lani resort on the island of Maui where the union has been meeting. The player reps heard from the four candidates Saturday and once again Sunday, with the candidates providing their closing arguments before the voting began by secret ballot.

They reps emerged with their selection 90 minutes later.

Smith is NFL outsider who has no labor law experience, but has ties to President Barack Obama and worked with new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He’s a trial lawyer and partner at the influential Washington-based Patton Boggs, and chair of the firm’s government investigations and white collar practice group. He has represented Fortune 500 companies in numerous cases. A native Washingtonian, Smith earned his law degree at Virginia in 1989, and has been a frequent guest commentator on many cable television news programs.

Despite his lack of familiarity to NFL players, he beat out three strong contenders: former NFLPA presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, and sports attorney David Cornwell, who re-emerged as a candidate after receiving the necessary written support of three player reps.

Smith is now faced with uniting the ranks as the NFLPA looks ahead to numerous challenges following 25 years under Upshaw.

This is a pivotal juncture in the union’s history.

In the coming months, the new director will enter talks with the NFL after owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement last year. If a new deal is not struck within two years, there is a chance for a work stoppage affecting the 2011 season, threaten the NFL’s long history of labor peace, which has allowed it to flourish for much of the past two decades.

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