LETTER FROM ROMAN OBEN TO DAF AND ALL NFL RETIREES
Roman was NFLPA Players Rep for 3 different teams and heavily involved in union affairs
until last year
when he retired before the 2008 season.
Dear Mr. Boyd:
In the fraternity of eighteen hundred men who proudly represent the NFL shield and to the thousands of others who have once done so, it can be argued that we are about to embark upon the most crucial period in our union's history. In order to get through this process so that we can emerge united and victorious we need a new level of transparency and honesty from all concerned.
For seven years on three different teams, I served the men in my locker room. I believed in a commitment to a process that was bigger than my own self interest. My service to this process began with a zeal and quest for knowledge of union policies that would help better inform these men, who could then make more informed decisions about their life and profession. I was brought into the union with the mantra of “players first”, but unfortunately in the last calendar year, I have seen a union administration deviate from the "players first" creed to a sentiment of, "we know what's best for the players because we've been here since the beginning & we know where all the bodies are buried", etc. etc.
As an athlete, you constantly have to deal with people who tend to underestimate your cerebral capacity. But when these similar perceptions are held by many people in your own organization, the problems that emerge from this type paternalism can become catastrophic.
During my last four years as a player Rep, I saw a president who was a loyal soldier to our union, demanded a high level of accountability for everyone who was a part of our union, created committees that got player Reps and Executive Committee members involved, and had an unwavering commitment to doing things the "honest way".
At the March 2008 Board of Reps meetings, when the question of the transition was posed openly to the late Gene Upshaw, the message was not intended to negate Gene’s leadership but came from a sincere concern of who and how could we continue our strong representation of that leadership in the future. However, this concern was seen as a line in the sand. And immediately the question of loyalty was put forth, and where you stood on transition was not a question but a loyalty oath. Many on the administrative staff were "bullied" and threatened that if they were not loyal to the current leadership, then they should seek employment elsewhere.
We all know that every organization has their "dirty laundry" that should never be aired in the light of day. The NFLPA is no different. But there has been a "movement" of people (current and former players) who demand and deserve transparency from the people who are supposed to represent us.
However, I have known a certain gentleman for the last five years who stood for everything "just" in the NFL as a player, business, and community civic leader. While we embrace Super Bowl rings and championships, they are only a few ways in which a successful career in the NFL can be defined. Troy Vincent is one of the most respected professional football players in my era. But unfortunately due to fear and speculation, Troy Vincent has been unfairly criticized and questioned about things that have nothing to do with the quality of his work, his unwavering commitment to player interests- both current and former, his solid relationship with NFL management, or a tireless work ethic that is unparalleled by any of his peers.
The fact that Troy Vincent has been the subject of public character assassination during his candidacy only demonstrates the fact that others know what I have stated to be true. Many who oppose Troy have conducted themselves as the direct opposite. So they have circulated rumors from coups to massive firings to paint themselves as sympathetic figures to the men whom they say they represent. These people know that he challenged a systematic way of doing things that weren't in the player's interest, but in the interests of those who were supposed to represent us.
The fact is that in the last decade the NFLPA has helped all of us see the most prosperous time in our league, especially: an increased salary cap, more NFL franchises, and significant milestones in the areas of player benefits and player programs.
But it is also a sad fact that the relationships with some retired players have been severely damaged, and the cultural shift at the PA has gone from serving the players to protecting their own. This doesn't apply to everyone in that building, but phone calls & emails have not been returned for those (myself included) who served the union but now aren't deemed as significant because we no longer have a vote.
I always remember Troy saying that the NFL cares about the career of the player and the NFLPA deals with the "life" of the player.
WHAT THE PLAYERS NEED:
We all know that the player's union needs strong representation and leadership from an Executive Director; but obviously they need someone that can build solid relationships, not destroy them; someone who cares about the locker room, not just the board room; someone who demands the highest level of quality and professionalism from his staff; someone who can walk into 32 team facilities and speak to the league MVP down to the last man on the practice squad, to those who are obeying the rules and to those who are breaking the rules, treating each with the same respect and demanding that same respect in return. In addition to that we need someone who can sit across the table from Roger Goodell, who is knowledgeable on all relevant issues and negotiate not only on the behalf of, but with the "power and strength" of eighteen hundred men and several thousand other men who proudly represent the NFL shield.
The NFLPA is regarded by many as the strongest union in professional sports. And while generating revenue and benefits are important; let us not loose sight why the men organized in the first place, and let us a new generation carry the mantle of fairness to our members, commitment to excellence, and the best possible quality of life for all past, present, and future members forward.
I'm confident that the men will make the proper choice when that time comes.