NFL Players Association elects first new executive director in 14 years

The NFLPA’s new executive director is Lloyd Howell. (Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For the first time in 14 years, the NFL Players Association has a new executive director.

The NFLPA’s Board of Player Representatives announced Wednesday that it has selected Lloyd Howell as the union’s fourth executive director, succeeding DeMaurice Smith.

Howell spent 34 years at management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, most recently as the firm’s CFO and treasurer and previously as head of its civil and commercial group. Howell serves on the boards of Moody Corporation and General Electric Healthcare and is a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Howell earned his MBA at Harvard Business School.

“I look forward to driving our bold goals and achieving them together in the future,” Howell said in part in a statement. “I look forward to building relationships and the solidarity between our players.”

Although Howell’s extensive business experience does not include work in sports, he said on a conference call Wednesday that he believes “my background and my leadership skills would be attractive” to players. He cited his ability to encourage individuals around a common goal as one of his key strengths in the position. Howell declined to detail during the call any of his beliefs about the current NFL CBA, the influence of NFL players or the role a strike could play, although he said he presented some of those views to the NFLPA board during the interview process.

“I’m really a service agent for the players and I’m really looking forward to getting to know the players, knowing what their interests are, what their priorities are,” he said. “I have a learning curve, if you will, in terms of the details. [But] I have a track record of getting up those learning curves pretty quickly with input and support.”

Howell said he does not have a relationship with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodellwho released a statement on the selection congratulating Howell and thanking Smith for his “continued partnership and tireless work” on behalf of the players.

“We look forward to working with Lloyd and his team,” Goodell said, “to continue to evolve the game and make it better, safer and more accessible and attractive to fans around the world.”

How the NFLPA chose Howell to succeed Smith

NFLPA President JC Tretter said conversations among board members, as well as a report from the executive search firm they commissioned to survey stakeholders, did not indicate a strong desire to select a former player as the next NFLPA executive.

“You don’t have to be a former player to be able to motivate and encourage a group of people,” Tretter said. “So we really looked for someone who was able to do that, and we found a great one.”

The search for an executive director spanned a 16-month process involving an executive search firm, legal counsel and input from the NFLPA’s executive committee. That committee includes Tretter, treasurer Alex Mack and vice presidents Calais Campbell, Austin Ekeler, Ryan Kelly, Jason McCourty, Brandon McManus, Thomas Morstead, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Richard Sherman and Michael Thomas.

Beyond the 11 members, some of whom are no longer active in the NFL, board members and players more generally were unaware of most developments in the search. Tretter said Wednesday that the executive board voted unanimously in July to keep the search confidential in hopes of preventing outside influence from filtering into player decisions. Tretter was questioned repeatedly during the call about prioritizing confidentiality over transparency. He said his committee believed that was what “good governance” dictated and that other players had elected them to make such decisions.

“This [executive committee] spent a ton of time researching and qualifying candidates, and then the players in the locker room allow the board members to make decisions for them,” Tretter said. “This is what a representative democracy does. You speak for your dressing room and you trust the people you choose.”

The broader board of player representatives was invited this week to hear about the finalists — Tretter would not confirm how many there were, only that the executive committee had agreed to bring two to four — and then vote.

Thirty of 32 teams were represented in Wednesday’s voting, which Tretter said was facilitated by a third-party tally service that announced the top vote-getter as the winner, but not the division. Tretter tweeted a photo after the vote of Howell along with 47 members who were present to vote. Up to 128 player representatives were entitled to vote, with a total of four representatives or alternates per team.

Several players tweeted their support for the move after the news was announced. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward praised how the committee “did a great job of keeping it confidential, professional,” while Morstead, the New York Jets’ punter, was part of a chorus expressing “100%” support for the selection .

Tretter thanked Smith in a statement and emphasized the players’ role in filling the vacancy.

“The process was 100% player-led and focused on leadership, competencies, skills and experience,” Tretter said. “Our union deserves strong leadership and a smooth transition, and we are confident that Lloyd will make great strides on behalf of our membership.”

Smith negotiated two collective bargaining agreements as CEO, navigating the 2011 lockout just two years into his tenure and most recently an agreement ratified in 2020 that will extend through the 2030 season. He oversaw increases in player wages, benefits and health and safety schemes. In 2020, the NFLPA and the league collaborated to develop a season amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic without eliminating any games, game checks or player benefits.

The union also recently launched its first team reports, surveying 1,300 players last fall on team dynamics, including facility treatment, nutrition, locker room and travel. The union released that information during the scouting combine this spring; Tretter said he plans for the survey to become an annual exercise that shows different standards across teams.

Smith tweeted Wednesday that “serving the players has been an experience of a lifetime.”

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