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Union finalist Vincent addresses controversies

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Troy Vincent isn't getting much sleep these days, routinely staying awake two or three hours past midnight and rising before the dawn. And though logic suggests that the string of attacks on his credentials to succeed the late Gene Upshaw as the NFL Players Association's executive director would be the cause of Vincent's restlessness, the former union president swears that's not the case.

Instead, as he closes in on an election he reportedly has a good chance of winning, Vincent is eagerly planning for what he hopes will be a bold new era of NFLPA leadership. Though the former NFL cornerback is troubled by the current state of the union, he believes that the players it serves ultimately will benefit from the unrest.

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Vincent ended his 15-year playing career with the Redskins.
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

"Right now our organization is a mess," Vincent said Wednesday in his first extensive public comments since emerging as a finalist for the executive director's position. "A lot of things have been thrown at me in an effort to create cloudiness, and that's part of the process – I understand that. But through all that smoke and all that muck, a new leader will appear, and the men who comprise our union will take this in a positive and exciting direction."

Vincent, one of four finalists for the union's top leadership post, will make his pitch to the league's player representatives at the NFLPA's annual meeting in Maui, which begins a week from Saturday. Another former union president, Trace Armstrong, and Washington, D.C., attorney DeMaurice Smith were named along with Vincent as finalists by the union's executive committee. On Wednesday the trio was joined by Atlanta-area attorney David Cornwell, who was added to the group after being nominated by at least three team representatives, making him a candidate under the terms of the NFLPA's constitution.

Before news broke that Cornwell had been added to the group of finalists, a Sports Business Journal article suggested earlier this week that Vincent, 37, may already have secured enough votes to capture the election. If Vincent ends up winning, two things will be exceedingly clear: He will have overcome a stunning barrage of public and private criticism from those who oppose him, and he will be poised to lead the union in a far different manner than did Upshaw, who presided autocratically over the NFLPA for a quarter-century before he died of cancer last August.

At the time of his death Upshaw believed Vincent, from whom he had been estranged for at least the previous five months, had launched an unsuccessful coup to oust him in March of 2008. The plight of retired players was one source of tension that led to the dissolution of Vincent's relationship with Upshaw.

On Thursday, in the latest of a series of unflattering published reports about a man once presumed to be Upshaw's handpicked successor, Upshaw's widow, Terri, criticized Vincent to SI.com, questioning whether he would be "the right candidate" to succeed her late husband.

Previous articles in various publications questioned Vincent's outside business interests, his link to a congressional inquiry into the NFLPA's selection process and an alleged security breach caused by an email he forwarded to his business partner that contained confidential information about player agents. Vincent responded to each of the allegations during extensive interviews on Wednesday and Thursday, and he acknowledged that they have overshadowed issues he believes are far more compelling: his views on subjects ranging from the prospect of a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL (the current CBA is due to expire after the 2010 season) to the strained relationship between the union and several organizations representing the interests of retired players.

"I've been waiting to talk about my vision for five months, but I haven't been asked those questions," Vincent said. "I've had three interviews [with the executive committee] where I sat down with people I respect greatly, but we've spent most of the time talking about things people have accused me of. Each time I've come in with a three-ring binder five inches thick, with brochures and handouts and other materials. And each time I've packed up my binder without ever opening it.

"I look forward to the meeting in Maui, where I can make my case to the people who comprise our organization."

Though Vincent wouldn't comment on what specific personnel decisions he might recommend if elected, it's likely that many of the current top union officials would resign or be forced out under such a scenario. Given that Vincent believes current interim director Richard Berthlesen, assistant executive director Clark Gaines and human resources director Mary Moran have actively tried to undermine his candidacy, partly because they fear he would push for such changes, this may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

According to Vincent, he began sensing that things were strained during meetings with NFL management council representatives at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February of '08. Some NFL officials, Vincent said, insisted on asking his opinion on various issues, which seemed to bother Upshaw.

By the following month's annual meeting in Maui, things had deteriorated to the point where Upshaw believed a coup was in the works.

"When that got back to me, I didn't even know what the word 'coup' meant," Vincent insists. "It simply wasn't true. What happened was, at the executive committee meeting, and on subsequent meetings with the general membership which I didn't attend, players were adamant about adopting a succession plan.

"At one point [a player on the executive committee] said, 'Gene, if you were to walk out of here and get hit by a bus, what would happen?' Gene said, 'You guys will be fine,' and some players weren't comfortable with that answer. [Executive committee member] Keenan McCardell said, 'Gene, we are not trying to kick you out, but we need to have some sort of plan in place.' At one point the players told him, 'If you don't come up with one, we will.' "

After the meetings Vincent, whose term had expired, believes Upshaw successfully convinced NFLPA employees to stop communicating with him. Over the past year the situation has continued to corrode.

In Thursday's SI.com story, Terri Upshaw said she discovered a file kept by her late husband filled with numerous emails which allegedly linked Vincent to the supposed coup attempt and other controversies. Asked to respond to Terri Upshaw's comments late Thursday night, Vincent said, "I respect and appreciate the passion Terri has for the NFLPA. We all realize it was a significant part of the Upshaws' family life."

This was the latest salvo in a series of what Vincent's supporters believe is a concerted smear campaign against him. In January reports surfaced that Vincent had initiated contact with four U.S. congressmen who subsequently sent a letter to the union sharing concerns "regarding the Executive Director search process" based on articles in the New York Times and Washington Post/Associated Press.

The union, in an effort to investigate Vincent's possible role, dispatched McCardell and other officials to meet with the four Congressmen (Gregory Meeks, Edolphus Towns, Bobby Rush and G.K. Butterfield). The elected officials told them that no candidates had instigated the letter and that Meeks had initiated a conversation with Vincent only after it had been sent.

After another congressman, Jim Moran of Virginia – whose daughter, Mary, is the NFLPA's human resources director – told Sports Business Journal that Vincent had spoken to the other four congressmen, Meeks, in interviews with several news agencies, accused Moran of using his influence to derail Vincent's candidacy in an attempt to preserve his daughter's job.

"Ultimately," Vincent says, "the truth came out."

Vincent scoffs at a New York Post report last month which linked him to several failed business ventures, saying, "It's a smokescreen. My businesses are thriving like they've never thrived before."

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The relationship between Upshaw, left, and Vincent drastically changed.
(Jason Parkhurst/US Presswire)

The latest charge against Vincent, first reported by SI.com late last month, was that he improperly released confidential information about agents to longtime friend and business partner Mark Mangum in December of 2007. The NFLPA launched an investigation into the allegation, and the union's executive committee was aware of the charges before voting in Vincent as one of the finalists.

"I didn't breach [anything]," Vincent insists. "As the [NFLPA] president I was in charge of all the committees, and that included the committee on agents. We had been receiving complaints from agents that certain agents were improperly benefiting from relationships with financial advisors and using those relationships to get around the 'junior rule' [which prohibited agents from contacting college players until after the completion of their junior seasons], and I was trying to look into allegations of cheating.

"I asked an assistant [Athelia Doggette] to email me information on the top agents and their financial advisors, because that's where I was going to start the investigation. The file was too big to open on my BlackBerry, so I forwarded it to [Mangum] and said, 'Please save this email to my desktop.' That's it. My firm [Eltekon Financial LLC], which has only four current or former athletes out of 1,000 clients, absolutely didn't benefit."

Despite all of the controversy, Vincent insists he is not bitter at his former colleagues or anyone who is questioning his credentials. Nor has the situation taken his focus off the task at hand should he land the executive director's role.

While reluctant to discuss specifics, Vincent clearly favors a more conciliatory approach toward dealing with retired players, many of who have complained about insufficient disability benefits and pensions, as well as other perceived mistreatments.

"I'm a retired player myself, and I feel like we need to develop an open dialogue so that we can all move forward," Vincent said. "You'd see a dramatic change, and it would happen immediately."

Another cause of their conflict stemmed from Upshaw's belief that Vincent, the NFLPA president from 2004-08, was too solicitous of the general membership's views.

"There used to be a side joke in the office that Gene would tell," Vincent says. "He'd say, 'If you get too many people involved, you'll never be able to make a decision.' I'd come back and say, 'Well, as long as I'm serving the membership, I have to assess the membership.' At times, when we were discussing what to do about an issue, Gene would say to the people in the room about me, 'Well, he won't be able to make this decision. He'll have to ask the players what they think.' "

It is not surprising, then, that Vincent's vision includes increased interaction between NFLPA executives and the union's dues-paying members and a push to involve more players in the leadership process. "For the union to succeed," he says, "it has to be about the players."

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

No matter what name is stitched onto the back of Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco's jersey in 2009, he will remain the only starting Bengals wideout whose full name I can spell correctly every single time. … The former NFL running back I lovingly refer to as King Henry IX will soon be in a place where he'll be far less enthusiastic about romantic encounters. … Now that he is a free agent, Jason Taylor will end up in the same locker room as his buddy Tom Brady – but not until he has successfully avoided a decent chunk of New England's offseason workout schedule.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. Now that the Cowboys have released Terrell Owens, organizational harmony has been achieved.

2. The Broncos are not trading Jay Cutler – period.

3. After signing their respective contracts on Wednesday, Manny Ramirez and Kurt Warner had the following text-message exchange: (From Warner) San Francisco? (From Ramirez) LMAO.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

Is anything more touching than the NFL's newest fad: the sappy statement of appreciation from the team that has just given a veteran player his outright release? I mean, seriously, some of these mass emailings to the media bring me to tears, like the one from the Falcons earlier this week after the team decided to part ways with linebacker Keith Brooking. "Keith defined the Falcons in so many ways: his tenure, his leadership on and off the field, his commitment to excellence and his many resulting accomplishments, his love for Atlanta, and so much more," owner Arthur Blank said. "He will always be a Falcon in the hearts of his teammates and our fans. We wish him the very best in his future NFL endeavors, and we extend best wishes to his wife, Holly, and their children, Logan and Juliette."

Hold on, let me gather myself. OK, now here's Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie commenting on longtime safety Brian Dawkins' signing with the Denver Broncos: "Brian Dawkins has been one of the pillars of this franchise for 13 years. He helped lead us to five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. Brian embodies everything you look for in a professional athlete and human being. I have been fortunate to witness his impeccable character, his passion for the game of football and his commitment to being the best player he could be. I look forward to continuing a close relationship with him once his playing days are over. His legacy as an Eagle will last forever and will ultimately land him in Canton as a Hall of Famer." Coach Andy Reid added, "Brian is one of the best players in franchise history and one of the most popular players to ever play in the city of Philadelphia. The Eagles organization, as well as the entire fan base, will miss him not only as a player but as a tremendous person. This is the toughest part of my job, no question. He gave this city 13 years of emotional, energetic football. We wish Brian and his family nothing but the best as he continues his career in Denver."

In my head, I hear Itzhak Perlman. Still, no one tugs on my heartstrings like Bill Belichick, who turned reflective after trading linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs: "When Mike arrived in 2001, we knew we were adding a solid outside linebacker. But where Mike took it from there exceeded our highest hopes. Mike Vrabel epitomizes everything a coach could seek in a professional football player: toughness, intelligence, playmaking, leadership, versatility and consistency at the highest level. Behind the scenes, Mike's wit and personality is one of the things we have all enjoyed about coming to work every day. The toughest aspect of my job is the day I stop coaching people like Mike, who did everything in his power to contribute to team success. Of all the players I have coached in my career, there is nobody I enjoyed working with more than Mike. In the same way people recognize guys like Troy Brown, we appreciate and thank Mike Vrabel. He is one of the very special Patriots champions."

As much as these statements choke me up, I'm still waiting to read one that's a bit more honest. It would talk about the player in question's unmatched nobility and character and then add: "Of course, despite the fact that he's the greatest human being ever to walk God's earth, the thought of paying him his roster bonus was horrifying, and we really don't think he's that good anymore."

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

The loved ones of Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, Lions defensive end Corey Smith and friend William Bleakley, who disappeared after their boat overturned in the Gulf of Mexico. There have been some haunting and inconsistent media accounts of what might have happened in the hours after the fishing boat overturned – another passenger, Nick Schulyer, was miraculously rescued on Monday – possibly adding misery to an already horrific situation. Let's all extend our thoughts and prayers to Cooper, Smith, Bleakley and their families.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

In my 2005 book "Golden Girl," which detailed the career resurrection of Olympic swimming champion Natalie Coughlin, Cal swimming coach Teri McKeever got a hearty share of the credit. Just as Coughlin has taken her career to another level in the years since then, McKeever continues to reach new heights, the most recent being the Golden Bears' stunning first-place finish at the Pac-10 championships last weekend. Spurred by the return of freshman sensation Sara Isakovic and led by star senior Dana Vollmer, the Bears were brilliant from start to finish, closing the meet by setting an NCAA record (with a team of Vollmer, Erica Dagg, Madison Kennedy and Hannah Wilson) in the 400 free relay. Cal will try to keep its momentum going two weeks from now at the NCAA Championships in College Station, Texas.

Also charging into postseason play are Mike Montgomery's basketball Bears, who improved to 11-6 in the Pac-10 on Thursday night with an 83-77 victory at Arizona. Cal was led by the little dude with the huge heart, Jerome Randle, who made 8-of-11 three-pointers en route to a career-high, 31-point performance.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

arrogant little punk

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

Winless since late January, and coming off a pair of defeats which threatened to derail its promotion drive, Reading rallied for a 2-1 victory at Sheffield Wednesday (the name of the club) last Tuesday (the day of the week) to stay near the top of the Football League Championship table. The Royals, who three days earlier suffered a 1-0 home setback to Nottingham Forest, fell behind just before halftime on a Sean McAllister goal. Reading roared back in the second half, equalizing on Kevin Doyle's back-post header off a Marek Matejovsky corner in the 56th minute and prevailing after super sub Shane Long lashed home from 12 yards with less than 10 minutes to play. The Royals (62 points) trail league-leading Wolverhampton (67) and second-place Birmingham (64) but have played two fewer games than each rival. The top two finishers earn automatic promotion to the English Premier League, along with the winner of a playoff between the third-through-sixth-place finishers. Reading plays at Plymouth Saturday and returns to Madejski Stadium Tuesday to battle Charlton, a team that defeated the Royals 4-2 back in August.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Terrell Owens got the boot in Big D, but in his heart he's still a Cowboy, lonesome on the trail. As T.O. heads to his next NFL destination, I picture him channeling the late, great Phil Lynott – if you don't know, you better ask somebody – and putting his unique brand on Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song."

I am just a Cowboy lonesome on the trail
So sad inside, with wounded pride
The coyote call, and the howling winds wail
So I call Drew, he says, "Next question!"

I am just a Cowboy lonesome on the trail
Lord, I'm just thinking about a certain female
She called the paramedics, said there's 25
million reasons to be alive

Run me over and throw me away
Let me keep spinning till I cannot play
Work me over and let me go
Say goodbye to ol' T.O.

I was took in Texas, and Tony was his name
Lord, all these quarterbacks, they seem the same
Down below the border in a town in Mexico
I lost my job though I cried for Tony Romo

Run me over and cast me aside
Think you'll keep winning without me out wide?
Work me over and let me go
Catchin' balls up in Buffalo

Here I go

Run me over and I'll turn around
And I'll take it to another town
Are you down?

It's OK amigo just let me go
Throw it up for ol' T.O.

Run me over and throw me away
Call me "The Player" till I cannot play
Work me over and let me go
Makes me long for Drew Bledsoe

Run me over and set me free
This Cowboy's ripe for a eulogy

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