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Powell Says Reason Is the Reason There Will Be No NFL Strike

June 11, 1986|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

The road to labor peace in sports is often pockmarked with ill will, strikes and lockouts.

Marvin Powell, the new president of the NFL Players Assn., is looking at it a different way. He's fond of a quotation from Isaiah I:18: "Come now, and let us reason together."

A former All-American tackle at USC, Powell has played in five of the last seven Pro Bowls as a New York Jet.

Also a law student for the last four years, Powell prefers negotiation to confrontation. And he predicts that the athletes will reach a suitable accommodation with the owners on the NFL's two major labor issues of the next 12 months.

These are:

--Commissioner Pete Rozelle's proposal for random drug testing as a compulsory procedure for all players this year.

--The players' proposal for limited free agency in the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement starting next year.

"I'm totally committed to negotiating as the only way to settle an argument," Powell said recently. "And I'm confident that negotiation will work for us.

"You'll see a (drug) settlement that will be agreeable to both sides before another season starts. Then we'll put together a new bargaining agreement that will be reasonable and acceptable to both sides. We won't strike. We won't have to."

Powell said that Gene Upshaw, who has succeeded Ed Garvey as the NFLPA's executive director when Garvey became a deputy state's attorney in Wisconsin, shares those views.

"Garvey was one of the greatest things that ever happened to our union," Powell said. "He's the one who taught us that football is a business as well as a game. But a lot of the players didn't understand him at first.

"At first, we didn't understand the issues, either," Powell said, meaning the issues that led to the NFL's strikes in 1974 and 1982. "The thing that Garvey did that helped the most was educational--he educated the media, too.

"But at the start (of the 1982 turmoil), he came across as too aggressive, too antagonistic to the owners. Most people saw him that way--most players along with most owners and writers. And the perception lingered. It still lingers--unfairly to him."

Calling Upshaw a healing influence, Powell said: "Gene has put an end to the constant friction we had with the owners when Ed Garvey was here. We're still following Ed's lead, but we're moving in ways that are perceived to be less abrasive. We are still a powerful union. We just aren't out throwing our muscles around."

Powell believes this is as it should be. Now in his next-to-last year of study at a New York law school, he has been advocating a more diplomatic NFLPA approach for some time.

Because of his attitude and development as a leader, he was elected to head the NFL players at their Hawaii meeting in April, succeeding Tom Condon of the Kansas City Chiefs.

On the way home to take his law-school semester finals, Powell reappeared in the news pages. The Jets called a press conference to announce that they had just cut him from their squad.

Two weeks later, he was recalled from waivers and traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a draft pick in 1987, although he must make the team for the Jets to receive the draft choice.

At 30, Powell is four to six years younger than many of the NFL's other leading offensive linemen, and he's only two winters removed from his last Pro Bowl.

Did he slip that much last season--when, after holding out for a week, he started the last 15 Jet games?

Or were the Jets uncomfortable with a union president on their roster? They are owned by industrialist Leon Hess.

The league has a long history of firing player reps and other union leaders.

Since 1972, pro clubs have cut five NFLPA presidents. John Mackey was cut by the Baltimore Colts, Bill Curry by the Houston Oilers, Kermit Alexander by the Philadelphia Eagles, Len Hauss by the Washington Redskins, and Powell by the Jets.

Nevertheless, neither Powell nor his representative, Bradley Peter, charged the Jets with bias.

"I've been too busy in school to give it much thought," Powell said.

Peter, a lawyer in Napa, said: "At the Jets' press conference, (Coach) Joe Walton said the decision was based on Marvin's field performance. It's difficult for me to believe this about a guy his age who's started every game for them since his rookie year. In such cases, NFL teams always do it another way. They usually bring the veteran to training camp and release him there."

For Powell, in the meantime, life goes on. He allots several hours a day to law books, to his family, to workouts, to his political party, and to his new job as a union leader.

Son of a Fort Bragg, N.C., soldier, Powell supports a wife and three children and contributes to New York's Republican party.

"The GOP is committed to a strong economy, and nothing helps the little man more," he said, acknowledging that many others with his background are independent voters or Democratic. "I went to USC a Democrat and after four years of political science, came out a conservative."

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