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NFL Players Association suing over control of NFLCA

The NFL Players Association is suing the NFL Coaches Association for more than $650,000 less than one year after the coaches group supported the players during last summer's lockout, Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday evening.

At the root of the litigation is a power struggle between DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, and David Cornwell, who was hired as the NFLCA's executive director in February.

Cornwell, who has represented the NFL and the union as well as several prominent NFL players, was a candidate to become executive director of the NFLPA in 2009, when the job went to Smith.

Cornwell says Smith has challenged his authority to lead the NFLCA in a letter that suggests the NFLPA should control the coaches' group as well.

In the past, the groups have worked together, with the NFLPA offering the NFLCA office space, money and legal services.

In May 2011, the NFLCA filed a court brief in support of ending the lockout of players by NFL owners.

The NFLPA declined to comment for the Yahoo! story, but union spokesperson George Atallah later issued the following response via Twitter:

"The NFLCA made it explicitly clear to the NFLPA that they were not interested in having an affiliation with us as in the past," Atallah said. "Part of that strong, historic affiliation included financial support that resulted in an accumulated debt to the NFLPA."

NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora later obtained a statement from Cornwell on Wednesday.

"I do not know which is more absurd, the claim that De is the executive director of the NFLCA or the fact that the NFLPA is blocking us from using coaches' dues money to advance the interests of coaches," Cornwell said.

"Instead of working with the NFL on retirement benefits, uniform insurance, and other important issues for NFL coaches, now we have to incur real debt to deal with De Smith and the NFLPA.

"De has not done anything for NFL coaches and there is no support for a continued association with the NFLPA. I think the lawsuit and the alleged debt is a smoke screen to prevent the NFLCA from breaking away from the NFLPA."

Part of the lawsuit involves a $350,000 debt that, according to two sources cited in the report, had been forgiven by former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw in 2008, a few months before he died.

"I have seen no evidence that the NFLPA sought to collect this alleged debt when they thought De controlled the Coaches Association," Cornwell said in a statement. "First with the NFLPA filing a amicus brief in the name of the NFLCA in the Eight Circuit during the NFLPA's labor challenge and now with this lawsuit, this is the second time that De has asked us to ignore that the players we coach are acting against our interests through their union."

Upshaw was previously the NFLCA's executive director during his tenure leading the players union.

"The NFLCA disputes that they owe us that money," Atallah tweeted. "Unfortunately, there's only one way to resolve such a dispute."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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