WASHINGTON – Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth is the youngest member of the executive committee in NFL Players Association history.
And the University of Maryland graduate is regarded as a strong voice for the players’ union who was instrumental in the election of new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.
With labor strife surrounding the league as the owners and the players continue to haggle over a new collective bargaining agreement after the owners opted out of the old deal, the 24×7 caught up with Foxworth for a 20-minute interview at the U.S. Capital during an NFLPA forum.
Do you feel like the players will stay united if a lockout commences in 2011?
Foxworth: "We’re a union. We’re not like the NFL. We’re only as strong as our solidarity. The more we can get people involved and feel a part of it, the more united we’ll be. That’s where our strength lies in a union."
Do you think the players would cave in to pressure and take a deal if they’re missing games and game checks next year?
Foxworth: "That’s the frustrating part because that’s how people perceive it. Why shouldn’t people look at it the other way? Why doesn’t anyone say to the owners, ‘Just take a deal.’ I believe in us. I believe in our solidarity. I believe in our leaders and myself. I know that by me speaking out and Kevin Mawae, our president who doesn’t have a job right now as a perfect example, that we’re going to pay the consequences. I know I’m hurting myself, but it’s our hope that the other players around the league will stand behind us while we do it. It’s the way it is. It’s not a strike. It’s going to be a lockout."
Are guys taking the labor issue seriously and saving money?
Foxworth: "It’s forcing the guys to grow up fast. It’s something that we all need to work on. It’s a lot about having financial literacy. It’s just important to let the guys know what’s going on. People may have to dip into that fund that they’ve been saving. It’s about being conscious of that and being frugal and saving money, but a lockout is out of our control."
Are you in favor of a potential rookie wage scale?
Foxworth: "As far as a wage scale is concerned, it’s not something that I support. This is a pay-by-potential league. If guys got paid off what they did on the field, then guys like Tim Brown would have made a lot more money. If the team believes in rookies’ potential, then that’s what they should get paid. It’s kind of an unfair concept to change the way the league works now for those young guys just because they’re young guys and can’t defend themselves because they’re not in the league yet. "
What about allocating money to veteran players if a rookie wage scale is adopted?
Foxworth: "We had a meeting with the NFL and they said they wanted the money to go the veteran players. We said we would agree to it if they would guarantee all of that money would go to veteran players. They said we’re not willing to make that guarantee. The rookie wage scale, in all honesty, they’re using it as smoke and mirrors. It works in the NBA, but they have the Larry Bird exception.
"Those players get to be free agents a lot sooner and they can make so much money like a LeBron James. It works there. If they adopted the same model, we would consider it. But they’re not interested in changing it. They’re interested in changing it in a way that would hurt us. I think players should get paid on potential. The onus falls on general managers to make the right decisions on draft picks. They get steals in many cases."
With the owners refusing to reveal their financial records, at what point does the union stop asking for them to open up their books?
Foxworth: "We’ve negotiated without it up until this point. It’s not something that we’ve been necessarily pleased with. In the interest of keeping the fans happy and keeping our product going, we’d be willing to agree to a good deal. Right now, they’re not offering a good deal. They’re offering a bad deal and saying we can’t see their books. We would be willing to consider a good deal. It’s unfair. There’s no other companies that expect one group to negotiate with another group where you can’t see all their cards and they can see yours. It’s ridiculous. It’s unfair."
Who will the public point fingers at if there’s no football?
Foxworth: "It’s pretty obvious to me, but I’m biased. We’re not the ones that are asking for the lockout. We’re content with the deal."
What do you think about the owners’ position about the finances of the game and wanting players to get a smaller piece of the pie?
Foxworth: "I saw that Real Sports special on HBO where Patriots owner Robert Kraft said we’re taking on all of the risk. That drives me up a wall. They’re getting huge benefits, but 70 percent of our players aren’t hitting that homerun deal. It’s a revolving door. There’s a small percentage of guys that hit that homerun deal. We’re taking real risks. I was on the field when Kevin Everett got paralyzed. Chris Henry was never diagnosed with a concussion, but his brain is beat up and now he’s gone. That’s things we have to deal with. I just got married and we’re having a kid soon. I think about it all the time. What am I going to do? I don’t know what’s really going on in my head. I’m not asking for any sympathy because I made this decision to play football. I can walk away.
"I’m asking for respect. You can’t say I’m not taking risks. That type of thing gets under my skin and pisses us off. Who’s taking the real risks and who’s making the real gains? Robert Kraft is bringing in millions of dollars and he’s never had a concussion. He’s never tackled anybody. I doubt he’s had any knee replacements. It hurts us to hear stuff like that. I would imagine he would rethink it and I hope he doesn’t really feel that way. It’s impossible to say we’re not taking risks. Wes Welker will limp for the rest of his life and will have arthritis. Tom Brady will deal with that for the rest of his life. I want him to look those guys in the eye and say they’re not taking risks."
What do you think the business impact of possible missed games would be on cities?
Foxworth: "Instead of being that rock and providing people with an outlet and enjoyment, the owners are going to take it away. Look at how much that one city depends on one person in Cleveland with LeBron James. You take a team out of a city and look at how restaurants will do. They’re laying people off, some are going to shut down. The same thing will happen when football season starts and restaurants and taxis are out of business. It’s irresponsible."
Would you be in favor of players being given stock participation in the NFL?
"We’re contributing to the bottom line by how hard we work and the exemptions we give. They’re not giving us any stake. It would be reasonable for us to say we’re paying for overhead, so give us two to three percent of the company. They don’t want to do that."
What kind of impact does it have with the involvement of star players like Ray Lewis and Tom Brady in union matters?
Foxworth: "Obviously, the large percentage of the league no one knows. I start for the Baltimore Ravens and I grew up in Baltimore and I walk around just fine and no one gives a dang who I am. When Ray Lewis says something, people listen. People care. Not only did the public listen but players say if Ray and Tom feel this way they represent so many segments of society and our league. They are people that people look up to."
Have you talked to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti about the labor issues?
Foxworth: "I’ve talked to Steve Bisciotti a number of times I really, really like him and respect him. I don’t have the same relationship with the other owners. He’s genuine and he’s honest and he seems to be one of the younger owners. He wants us to play. He’s not running it like a business. He’s running it like a team.
"The owners are very divided. There’s a side that wants us to have football and there’s a side that wants to make as much money as they can. I think a lot of the owners are like Mr. Bisciotti, who I respect and like a great deal. He’s one I know who wants to have football and wants to do everything he can, but he can’t control everybody."
Why do you think the lockout will happen?
Foxworth: "They can get more money and we can get less money. Instead of bickering about how to split up the money, it’s more advantageous and galvanizing for them to say, ‘Let’s take it from somebody else.’ Instead of fighting with Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones over revenue sharing, it’s, ‘Let’s take it from them.’"
Do you expect Ed Reed to make a healthy return from hip surgery and play for the Ravens this season?
"I’m hopeful that Ed will live his life and be healthy. When you’re dealing with necks and hips, he’s had some serious stuff happen. He’s had aHall of Fame career and we want to get him a Super bowl. I hope he doesn’t make his pain any worse. I love him as a person whereas a lot of people love him as a safety. I want him to be healthy and happy."