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De Smith: NFL has “probably been the largest group of bullies” in American labor history

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Outgoing, eventually, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith isn’t bashful about stirring things up. When Smith recently appeared on The Pivot podcast, he brought a big-ass spoon.

Via Sports Business Daily, Smith said that fans “don’t understand” the battle between the NFL and its players.

“The league has probably been the largest group of bullies in the labor market in the history of labor in America,” Smith explained. “We have a great business and it’s a multibillion-dollar business and yes, we’ve had people declare war on labor forever, but I don’t know of another business in America that has antitrust exemptions, they answer to no one, . . . there’s no board of directors, there’s no transparency, there’s no oversight. The only people who can ever stand up to the National Football League [are the players].”

Even then, the players will only do so much. As Smith acknowledged, the NFLPA’s “real leverage” comes from the ability to “withhold our services.” But it’s not easy to get players to do that.

“It just comes down to an issue of will,” Smith said. And the reality is that most players will not sacrifice the ability to play football and the ability to get paid to play football in the name of some broader, long-term objective.

And it’s more than that. Smith wants players to stop engaging in gratuitous promotion of the NFL.

“Stop giving away things for free,” Smith said. “When you put your jersey or something else on your Instagram post, I think that’s great . . . but you know who loves it more than you? The NFL and the team. They’re getting full promotion about how much you love the game and how much you love them without them paying you a cent.”

Smith actually described the push and pull between the NFL and the players as a “battle between good and evil,” and that Commissioner Roger Goodell is “not there for the players.”

The NFL continues to benefit from the fact that the fans tend to line up behind the teams, and thus the owners, because players come and go and teams don’t. It makes it easier for the owners to impose their will, because if the players ever exercise their will, the fans will be more upset with the players than the owners.

Frankly, the league could squeeze the players even more than they have. It’s almost as if the league goes a little easy on the players in order to keep the mismatch from becoming even more obvious than it is.