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Player reps put Cornwell back in contention to take over NFLPA

Sports attorney David Cornwell is back in contention to become the NFLPA's executive director, providing the latest twist in what has been a divisive and unpredictable search process to determine who will replace the late Gene Upshaw.

Union spokesman Carl Francis on Thursday confirmed that Cornwell is again under consideration for the job after the NFLPA received written support from at least three of 32 player representatives, as allowed under union rules to place a candidate on the ballot. The letters of support on Cornwell's behalf were submitted Wednesday, within the 10-day deadline prior to the election set for March 15 at the NFLPA meetings in Hawaii.

Cornwell's re-emergence comes after the union's search committee eliminated him as a candidate in January.

With the addition of Cornwell, the list of finalists stands at four, rounded out by former NFLPA presidents Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent, and Washington D.C.-based attorney DeMaurice Smith.

Vincent and Armstrong have been considered the front-runners since the search process began in September, one month after Upshaw died. It's unclear how the landscape changes now that Cornwell has gained support from three voters.

Cornwell is considered a highly capable candidate because he has experience in sports marketing and licensing and has worked with both NFL agents and the league's office in New York. He also gained prominence last fall, when he represented a group of NFL players appealing suspensions for taking a diuretic that can be used as a masking agent for steroids.

Cornwell declined comment and referred questions to the NFLPA.

The union didn't reveal which three player representatives supported Cornwell being added to the list of finalists.

The search process has come under scrutiny and nearly been derailed several times. Congress even got involved in January, when four representatives sent a letter asking Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to monitor the selection process to ensure its integrity and that it follows NFLPA rules.

In December, Vincent was eliminated from contention before being added back to the list of finalists at the prompting of a union executive member, linebacker Mike Vrabel, then with the New England Patriots but since traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Vincent faces new questions as the NFLPA has appointed an attorney to investigate whether he compromised the personal information of numerous player agents in an e-mail he sent to his business partner in December 2007. However, the allegation didn't prevent the executive committee from approving Vincent as one of the three finalists last month.

Cornwell previously has criticized the union's search, referring to the selection process as one in "complete disarray," in a letter sent to NFLPA president Kevin Mawae last month.

In the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Cornwell called the process "corrosive" and "polarizing."

"The current infighting and political maneuvering neither advances nor protects the interests of the NFL players," Cornwell wrote.

Noting that the union approaches a critical juncture after NFL owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement last year, Cornwell questioned whether the NFLPA is united and prepared to enter into new labor talks.

"The (search) process has done nothing but sow the seeds of long-term internal division, which NFL owners are certain to exploit," Cornwell wrote. "What should have been a historic selection of leadership for the next decade has degenerated into a destructive display of intrigue and division. NFL players deserve more and better."

Critics dismissed Cornwell's letter as being sour grapes because it came after he was eliminated from contention.

Others agree with Cornwell.

"I think he's made some valid points," NFL agent Brad Blank told the AP, noting that if someone not involved in the selection process raised those concerns, they wouldn't have been so readily discounted.

Cornwell also defended himself, saying: "My sole objective is to protect the interests of current NFL players and the generations that follow. If trying to make a positive impact exposes me to criticism, so be it. There is far too much at stake to watch idly by for fear of misplaced rebuke."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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