NFLPA search narrowed to 3 finalists

Former union presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong and lawyer DeMaurice Smith are the finalists to succeed Gene Upshaw as executive director of the NFL Players Association.

The three were chosen from five semifinalists by the union's search committee Thursday, according to a person familiar with the search.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the individual is not authorized to release the information.

The new executive director will be chosen March 13-15 in Hawaii. He will succeed Gene Upshaw, who died last August of pancreatic cancer.

The names of the three finalists were first reported by The Washington Post.

The committee eliminated two other candidates, former players Ben Utt and Jim Covert, during a meeting in Dallas.

Smith is believed to be a compromise candidate if the union's board of representatives, who will make the selection, are unable to agree on the two former players.

The process recently has been mired in politics.

Last month, four congressmen sent a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao outlining their desire to ensure the integrity of the NFLPA's election.

A fifth congressman, Jim Moran of Virginia, then suggested that Vincent had lobbied the congressmen to write the letter after believing he might be left out of the process. But one of the four, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, suggested that Moran was simply trying to protect the job of his daughter, Mary, who works for the union.

Meeks said a former player, Willie Green, had gotten them to write the letter to Chao.

All the congressmen involved are Democrats.

The letter caught the NFLPA by surprise and was considered highly controversial because it raised questions about the integrity of its search process and had the potential to damage Vincent's candidacy if the search committee learned he had played a role in the letter.

Thursday's meeting was conducted only by the search committee along with Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans, the current union president. Previous meetings had been attended by Richard Berthelsen, the acting executive director, and Jeffrey Kessler, the union's chief outside counsel.