DeMaurice Smith had the grin and exuberance of the first overall pick on Thursday when he spoke to reporters at a Manhattan hotel where the NFLPA* was hosting it’s Rookie Debut Welcome Reception.
In light of an injunction by Judge Susan Nelson earlier in the week and her decision not to issue a stay of the lockout, Smith took the opportunity to do a little fist-pumping, grand-standing, and even some good old American flag-waving.
“Look, football is back and I think that’s a great day,” he said. “Not only do our fans deserve to have the game that they love, not only do our fans deserve to be able to enjoy the game that they have embraced … but it’s important to know that something as inextricably intertwined with American culture is back.
“Players stood up on behalf of themselves and behalf of the people who came before them to fight for the game that they love. If they can do something as important as seeking judicial relief to lift this lockout and get us back to playing football, that’s not only a great day for the players, it’s a great day for fans, it’s a great day for our country.”
Smith said he was proud of the plaintiffs in the case against the NFL and compared those who “stood up” to put their names on the lawsuit to other NFLPA heroes such as Reggie White, John Mackey and Dave Duerson.
“Today, on the players’ side, there is a new group of legends,” he said.
The owners issued a statement earlier on Thursday saying that they would open their facilities to players as of 8 a.m . on Friday and would have further updates as far as when the league year begins. Smith was asked if that was enough to be in compliance with the injunction against the lockout and whether the league year – and free agency and player trades – should begin immediately.
“Whether I’m comfortable or not is not really the issue,” he said. “A federal judge of these United States imposed an injunction and told the National Football League to lift the lockout. The injunctive power that flows from our federal courts has been a power that has been inherent in those judges since the creation of our country. Judicial decisions have many times changed the way we’ve done things.”
He made a reference to court decisions that have allowed others to walk in through doors, perhaps a reference to civil rights decisions.
“A federal judge issued an injunction because the owners’ lockout was illegal,” he added. “We had men try to go to work who were unable to do so and we believe that violates the order. There were people who tried to go to work today and were not allowed to do so. That violates the order. I saw a picture of lockers and armed guards at some facility preventing our players from coming to work to do the things that they love. That violates an order.
“As a fan, come on! When we’re in a world where players are suing to play football and owners are suing to stop football, that’s just not good.”
Still, when pushed, Smith wouldn’t say whether the owners are not adhering to Nelson’s decisions.
“Instead of climbing into the world of what constitutes compliance, there’s an order from a federal judge allowing football to come back,” he said. “That’s important. But it does seem to me that for the millions of fans who dig our game, they’re owed something a little bit better than being taken for granted. They’re owed something a little bit more than to have a group of owners shut down the game that they love.
“The players class sued to stop a lockout. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about what’s the basement or the bare-level minimum of what’s acceptable. We’re happy that football is back and that’s where we are.”