So Far, He’s Not Impressed

By Tony Grossi
Updated: June 15, 2009

DeMaurice Smith

DeMaurice Smith

CLEVELAND — The day in March that he was named the new NFL players union boss, attorney DeMaurice Smith said the union had a “moral obligation” to take care of retired players.

Since then, Smith has sought to improve contentious relations with NFL alums, many of whom lambasted deceased union leader Gene Upshaw for turning his back on retired players in dire financial need.

Browns Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure, one of Upshaw’s severest critics, has not been overly impressed with Smith so far.

“He talks good,” DeLamielleure said in a telephone interview. “He’s only been on the job since March. We’ll see how he does. I’m hopeful. But to me, it’s basically been a lot of lip service.”

DeLamielleure says new NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith has yet to deliver on promises to help the retired players. DeLamielleure is one of 2,056 retired players who sued the NFLPA for permitting their likenesses on Electronic Arts’ Madden Series video games without compensating them.

The retired players were awarded a $28.1 million settlement. The NFLPA initially threatened to fight the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but then Smith orchestrated a surprise settlement for $26 million last week.

Each player named in the class action is expected to receive $10,000.

“That’s a joke, too,” said DeLamielleure. “They’re paying it out over two years. How many [retirees] will die by then?”

DeLamielleure, 58, has campaigned vociferously for retired players in need, not for himself.

“I get calls every day — three or four a day — from guys I’ve played with who are really hurting. They don’t get calls back from the NFLPA,” Joe D. said. “The NFLPA doesn’t talk to the retired players.”

DeLamielleure said the first thing he did upon hearing that Smith was elected by the active players was leave a congratulatory message on his phone. He said he never received a call back.

“Let’s see if the guy does anything,” DeLamielleure said. “They say they’re putting in all these programs. I don’t see anything. Put some cash in these guys’ pockets who helped build the league. Then I’ll have some respect.

“When he shows me something, I’ll be the first guy to hoist him in the air and say thank you very much.”