Joe DeLamielleure: Why was DeMaurice Smith allowed to speak at Hall of Famer’s luncheon?

Every year, the greatest players in the history of Pro Football gather together at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio to pay tribute to their newly inducted members. One of the highlights of the weekend for the Hall of Fame members is the Ray Nitschke Memorial Luncheon where “members only” get the chance to share their stories, renew friendships and just enjoy each others company.

For most Hall of Fame members, this is considered a hallowed event and one of the biggest highlights of the weekend.

The newest Hall of Famers cannot speak when the microphone is passed around the room. They are there to listen to the collective wisdom of those that came before them….the “Legacy” of pro football. 

Here is what the Hall of Fame website says about the event:  

Each year, the veteran Hall of Famers like Lanier and Taylor emphasize to the newest Hall of Fame Class, usually during the “enshrinees only” Ray Nitschke Luncheon, the importance of returning to Canton for the Enshrinement Ceremony as often as possible. Others make sure the new enshrinees understand the significance of their honor. As Deacon Jones likes to remind the new Hall of Famers, they are “joining a team from which they cannot be cut, cannot be traded and cannot quit. It’s forever.”

Now that you know the history of this event, you can imagine the shock of some of the Hall of Famers when the Executive Director of the NFLPA, DeMaurice Smith showed up at this event and then proceeded to talk for 30 minutes about how great the new CBA was for the active and retired players.

I spoke to Joe DeLamielleure about Smith’s presence at this luncheon and he said several Hall of Fame players were so outraged, they got up and left the room.

Joe D said the whisper around the room was “Who invited him to speak?”  According to Joe, nobody, including the Hall of Fame President, Steve Perry knew who invited Mr. Smith.  

I called one of the other HOF members and discovered that someone with strong ties to the Union and the late Gene Upshaw invited Mr. Smith to speak.  That was probably not the best idea, especially when you consider that many Hall of Fame players had just recently signed a letter saying they did not want the NFLPA to represent them or negotiate their benefits. 

It was one thing to have Gene Upshaw – a Hall of Fame player himself – say a few words to the enshrinees at previous luncheons, but Mr. Smith never played a down in the NFL and had not earned the right to speak. Even the newest members of the Hall of Fame had not yet earned that right.   

After Mr. Smith spoke, Joe DeLamielleure asked him how much money former players would get based on the recently approved CBA. 

Like the good lawyer he is……he didn’t give Joe a straight answer.  

Mr. Smith did nothing to win the hearts and minds of the Hall of Fame players with his long winded speech. If anything, it left a bad taste in the mouth of many of the Hall of Famers that are tired of the rhetoric and promises. Many of them have demanded a voice at the table. Tomorrow – in a court room in St. Paul, Minnesota – they may finally get that opportunity, although the NFL players have asked a federal Judge to refrain from ordering them to negotiate further with retirees upset about the way their request for better benefits was handled.

The Ray Nitschke Memorial Luncheon has always been about the Hall of Famers – former players that have achieved the highest honor that pro football can bestow. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith made a terrible mistake when he turned the luncheon into a political event to promote the NFLPA.  

Other than Joe D, not too many of the Hall of Famers will say anything negative about Mr. Smith…… and there’s a good reason for that.  Hall of Fame players enjoy certain perks that come with being part of an illustrious group. They should…..they earned it.  Some of those perks come in the way of payments from the NFLPA and Players Inc., the marketing arm of the NFL Player’s Association.  They do not want to do anything that could jeopardize that extra income, and I don’t blame them one bit.  

The Chairman of Players Inc. is none other than DeMaurice Smith. He has about 110 staff at Players Inc. – making about 11 million annually. They are responsible for setting up paid meet and greets, endorsements, autograph sessions etc. for Hall of Famers and other big name retired players. 

Hall of Fame players can easily be shut out of the money making opportunities if they are on DeMaurice Smith’s blacklist.  Just ask Joe D.

It takes a lot of courage to speak out like Joe has done – and continues to do – on behalf of all retired players. This has undoubtedly taken away his earning potential at the NFLPA, but there is one thing they can never take away from him…… his integrity and his bronze image that sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Like Deacon Jones said……Its Forever!

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About Jeff Nixon

Jeff was a first team consensus All-American from the University of Richmond in 1978. He is 7th in NCAA history with 23 career interceptions. Played for the Buffalo Bills 1979-1984. Led the team with 6 interceptions in Rookie Year. Holds Bills record for 4 takeaways in a single game - 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tied Bills record with four consecutive games with an interception. After 5 knee surgeries Jeff retired from pro football in 1985. He worked for 13 years (1988-2000) as the Youth Bureau Director for Buffalo and Erie County. He has worked for the past 11 years as the Youth Employment Director for Buffalo. Plays guitar and was voted best R&B guitar player by Buffalo Nightlife Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted on August 9, 2011, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am not a Hall Of Fame player but did play for seven years in the NFL. To have D. Smith address our greatest players the way he did is an outrage. It is an insult to both the Hall Of Fame players and the rest of the NFL retired players.

  2. Jeff- What a sad commentary at such a noteworthy event. Kudos to the Hall of Famers who walked out on Smith’s pontificating. All you have to remember is that Smith is an outsider who worked for many years inside the Beltway where the movers and shakers are noted for their rhetoric, spin doctoring, tap dancing around the issues and broken promises. Our politicians in Washington, sadly, have proven that. And as the Supreme Court would say: ‘I rest my case’!

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