“I’m proud that our player leadership conducted a professional, confidential search by the players, for the players.” Traitor said, “I know Lloyd will lead our union well into the future.”
The finding was in stark contrast to Smith’s first election to the role of executive director in 2009, a period of intense turmoil for the union. Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw, who was the union’s executive director for a quarter century, died of pancreatic cancer in August 2008, days after being diagnosed. In May 2008, team owners opted out of a two-year-old labor agreement that they felt would cost the players a large share of league revenue.
Three NFL insiders, including Troy Vincent, who had been union president, publicly lobbied to fill Upshaw’s seat before Smith was selected in March 2009.
Smith, a former prosecutor and litigator in Washington, D.C., had to assemble a negotiating team before the settlement expired in March 2011.
When the two sides failed to reach an agreement before the deadline, the owners let the players out. The union responded by filing and unceremoniously filing an antitrust lawsuit against the league, a move that failed in court.
Just before the start of training camp, the two sides agreed to a new deal that reduced the players’ share of revenue by several percentage points. The agreement was for 10 years, not the usual five years, giving the owners the stability they wanted in negotiating similar long-term television contracts.
In 2019, the owners again insisted on an 18-game schedule, which was publicly opposed by Smith and high-profile players. Yet weeks before the deal was to expire, Smith revealed proposals that included expanding the regular season by another game, to 17, in exchange for the players receiving another percentage point of the league’s shared revenue. Many players were upset that they had to make this appearance and the deal was approved by only 60 votes.