Players pledge unity, call for financial data at annual meetings

MARCO ISLAND, Florida -- NFL PLayers Association executive board members and player reps reiterated the need for unity among players during the lockout, and continued their calls for owners to open their books during a break Thursday from their annual meeting in Florida. The NFLPA Board of Player Representatives Meeting is taking place here, with a decided focus on the issues which still divide the league and its players.

Executive committee members Sean Morey, a former player, and Tony Richardson, a longtime standout fullback who spent 2011 with the Jets, as well as 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes (the team's NFLPA representative), were among the 100-plus players and former players gathered at a hotel here for meetings. The NFLPA's legal team, as well as executive director DeMaurice Smith, are here through the weekend as well, with meetings being held daily to provide material and information to the representatives.

Morey, Richardson and Spikes, along with NFLPA spokesman George Atallah, met informally with the assembled media between sessions Thursday. All stressed the need for players to remain vigilant with their workouts and conditioning during this lockout and put the onus on NFLPA player reps to disseminate all necessary information during this time of labor strife.

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Uncertainty continues to overshadow both sides in this labor standoff. The NFLPA decertified last Friday and revoked it's union status and ability to collectively bargain for players. The NFL is challenging that decertification with the National Labor Relations Board, and potentially with an appeals court as well if need be. And Judge Susan Nelson has scheduled a hearing for April 6 in Minneapolis to assess a claim in the Tom Brady v. NFL case seeking an injunction against the league's lockout.

Normally, most players would be spending mid-March returning to their respective clubs for offseason workout programs, then segueing into Organized Team Activities and mini camp. It's the time of year for reconnecting with teammates and entering into the new League Year, with free agency also in full swing. Now, no one knows how quickly the court process will act, when players will hit the open market, and how soon NFL teams would be re-opened for normal football business.

Spikes said he is emailing his teammates at least two to three times a week, if not daily, "letting them know it's important to be ready, because whenever we step back into the building (team's practice facility), it's not going to be looked at with a grace period attached." Spikes, 34, a 14-year veteran, is advising teammates to stay consistent with their workouts every week, and is taking a longview of the labor situation.

"That's with the mindset of not even expecting to show up until August, because that's the mindset we have to take," Spikes said.

Players are being provided information on private workout facilities in various parts of the country to offset the inability to train at their respective team facilities and representatives from some independent training facilities are also here at the meetings. The onus will be on players to be prepared to play whenever the lockout ends, and the difference between those who have put in the hours and those who did not will be obvious.

"A really good coach of mine said, 'What you do in the dark will shine in the light,'" Morey said.

Morey said that the players gathered here are not being instructed what to tell the media in regards to the differences between them and the owners, but praised Smith for "empowering" the rank-and-file with information and also with a voice during the nearly two years of negotiations that led to the eventual decertification and lockout. Several times, despite taking considerable issue with some of the words and actions of management, Morey reiterated that he is not trying to vilify owners, but the NFLPA feels a need to attempt to educate the public and media as well.

"The message we're putting out now is, the players want to play, and we're not striking," said Richardson, 39, a 17-year veteran who has long been active in the NFLPA. "We decertified because we want to get back to playing football."

The players spoke at length again about their desire to see 10 years of audited financial data, by team, in an effort to gain better clarity on the NFL's financial situation and the owner's desire to lower the percentage of revenues that go to players from the levels of the just-expired collective bargaining agreement. They disputed reports about the nature of the five years of financial date the NFL offered to make available to them during the final day of negotiation last week, calling it "aggregate" data and not detailed enough for their liking.

"There's a level of distrust until they prove it -- until they show us the books," Morey said.

Appearing on "NFL Total Access" Tuesday, commissioner Roger Goodel said the league offered adequate financial data to reach a deal.

"We as the NFL agreed last week we would share information with them that was audited financials over a five-year period that would show them profits on a league-wide basis and a club-wide basis that was information that they had asked for several times before," Goodell said. "They had to sign a waiver, and it was audited results. And most importantly, it was information we don't even share with our other 32 teams. So it was information that we thought was responsive to what they were asking for, but also something that if they really did feel this was going to help move the ball they would have accepted, taken that information and we would have been able to reach an agreement."

Players are also seeking better benefits and after-play care, and Morey has been at the forefront of the NFLPA's committees seeking better information on brain trauma caused by the game and what it means for players later in life. That's another core issue in the labor dialogue, he said.

Ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the 100 or so players here to relay all pertinent information to the other 1,800 or so members of what is now a trade association, even if some of that information, or the very status of the NFLPA, is under dispute.

"It comes with leadership," Richardson said. "Our men are smarter and stronger together. The biggest thing is just communication."

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