WASHINGTON -- DeMaurice Smith, the new leader of the NFL players union, and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth met with key players on another field -- Congress -- to build support on Capitol Hill for preventing an owners' lockout.
Smith held a series of Capitol Hill meetings Thursday, only one day after the NFL and the union started negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. Last year, the owners voted to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2011, raising the possibility of a work stoppage in two years.
"Today, we're just up here to say hello, meet and greet, and introduce them to some of the best athletes in the world," Smith told The Associated Press before heading into a meeting with staffers from the House Judiciary Committee, later joined by the panel's chairman, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
Smith and Foxworth also met with staffers from the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Commerce Committee.
"We're just meeting and greeting, having a good time," said Foxworth, a member of the union's executive committee. "I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to meet some of these great people."
Neither Smith nor Foxworth would discuss specifics of the meetings. Left unsaid was Congress' jurisdiction over the NFL in several areas, such as the antitrust exemption it grants the league for broadcasting, which lets the NFL sign television contracts on behalf of all its teams.
The NFL declined to comment on the visit.
Smith brings Washington smarts to the job having served on the Barack Obama transition team and previously worked for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
On the other side, the NFL ramped up its Washington operations last year by hiring a full-time lobbyist and creating a political-action committee to make federal campaign donations.
Congress has a history of shining unfriendly attention on sports leagues when the games stop. After the 232-day strike wiped out the 1994 World Series, several lawmakers introduced legislation to take away MLB's coveted antitrust exemption.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press