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David Cornwell Stunned At What NFLPA Has Become Under DeMaurice Smith’s Leadership

Earlier this week, Atlanta, Georgia-based attorney David Cornwell of DNK Cornwell sent a memorandum to all NFLPA Certified Contract Advisors regarding Cornwell’s lack of praise for the qualify of the leadership in the NFLPA, particularly pointing his finger at NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.  The timing of Cornwell’s letter was calculated; it was sent at a time that the renewal of DeMaurice Smith’s contract with the NFLPA is being considered.

Before getting into Cornwell’s arguments, it is worth taking a moment to consider who David Cornwell is and how he is so delicately connected to the NFLPA and the players that the association represents.  First of all, Cornwell went up against DeMaurice Smith for the title of Executive Director after the late Gene Upshaw had passed away, leaving an opening at the top position in the NFLPA.  Cornwell has over 20 years of expertise in the professional sports industry, representing professional athletes and sports agents in their legal affairs.  To be clear, Cornwell is not an NFLPA Contract Advisor himself, but he has been retained by NFL players and NFLPA Contract Advisors for various types of legal matters, including representation with regards to grievances through the NFLPA’s mandatory arbitration process.  In the past, Cornwell was Vice President and General Counsel of Upper Deck Company and Assistant General Counsel for the National Football League.  Suffice it to say, Cornwell knows the ins and outs in the world of professional football.

Cornwell’s observations are cleanly broken up into various sections.  The longest section of his memo concerns the new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was signed in 2011.  The other sections include a discussion of Terrelle Pryor’s suspension, the new NFL Drug Policy, the NFL’s Conduct Policy, and the NFLPA’s apparent lack of care for enforcing agent regulations.

As stated, the bulk of Cornwell’s memo reveals his dismay about the newly established NFL CBA.  He explains that players were misguided into believing that they would receive 47% of literally all NFL revenues, when in fact, that percentage is based on net revenues, and not gross revenues as was contemplated by the previous agreement.  Cornwell also states that the use of the term “True up” is misleading and that the idea of “Revenue Buckets” is a red herring.  Other issues are discussed at length.

Cornwell was tacitly involved in Terrelle Pryor’s suspension as Pryor’s retained attorney.  Cornwell’s main issue is the way that DeMaurice Smith accepted a five game suspension for Pryor without following up with Pryor and/or Cornwell after Pryor answered some questions posed to him by Smith.  The way that Cornwell explains it, the NFLPA advised the media that the NFLPA urged Pryor and Cornwell to reject the five game suspension (which Cornwell says was false), Cornwell announced that he would appeal the decision, and then DeMaurice Smith demanded Pryor’s agent to provide Smith with a letter promising that the suspension would not be appealed.  Cornwell uses words like “baffling” and “deceptive” in his memo.  The story he paints makes me question what was going on behind closed doors.

I’ll skip the Drug Testing and Conduct Policy issues and jump right to Cornwell’s final section: Agent Regulations.  The following excerpt from Cornwell’s memo will probably not surprise the readers of this website.

In the Conclusion section of Cornwell’s memo, he wrote, “Despite my greatest hopes, my personal experience reveals that De’s vision in 2008 was little more than an inside Washington political campaign — high on style, low on substance. De’s grandiose pronouncments did not translate into meaningful progress in the business of playing football. Rather than  advancing the partnership between players and team owners, the new 10 year CBA relegated NFL players’ status to mere employees.”  Cornwell is “stunned at what the NFLPA has become under De’s leadership.”  Cornwell recognizes that DeMaurice Smith is not required to answer the memo, and in all likelihood, Smith will probably resist making any comment.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.