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Top NFL prospects could face draft-night dilemma

The players association is considering inviting players to an alternative event in New York because of the labor fight. For some, like UCLA's Rahim Moore, attending the draft is a lifelong dream.

March 16, 2011|By Sam Farmer
  • UCLA defensive back Rahim Moore isn't planning on letting the NFL's labor problems spoil his chance to take part in the NFL draft.
UCLA defensive back Rahim Moore isn't planning on letting the NFL's… (Brian Spurlock / U.S. Presswire )

For top NFL prospects, crossing the stage at Radio City Music Hall next month could feel like crossing an imaginary picket line.

The choice? Snub the NFL, or snub your new teammates.

In the latest example of a labor fight turned toxic, the NFL Players Assn. is looking into holding its own draft celebration in New York — one in direct conflict with the league's traditional event — and coaxing elite rookies-to-be to attend.

That means those players would begin their careers with a weighty decision of which invitation to accept.

Not everyone, however, would struggle with the decision.

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"It's not a choice at all," said UCLA's Rahim Moore, perhaps the top safety in the class. "I'm headed for the draft. It's the only thing I really care about. To be honest, I don't know what the NFLPA is doing. … They have to let us young guys get ready for our dreams."

Neither side has extended invitations, and exactly what the NFLPA is planning is unclear. Although insisting it has not asked potential draft invitees to boycott the league's celebration, the decertified union — now a trade association — has said it's considering a simultaneous "alternative event" for prospects and their families, one that might be televised.

Although the NFLPA has not released details of how an event might be arranged, one scenario calls for Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to shake hands with the just-drafted player, and then for two stars from that player's new team to welcome him aboard.

What traditionally happens is the top 10 to 15 prospects are invited to New York by the league — invitations are made around the end of March — and players make an appearance onstage at Radio City when they are selected. They cross the stage, shake hands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, then adorn the cap and jersey of their new team to pose with family and friends.

Goodell, in an interview with NFL Network, said the NFLPA staging a competing event "would interfere with all of the work that [players] put in to walk across that stage and become an NFL draft choice.

"I just don't think that's in the best interest of the young man and their families that have worked so hard to get to that stage and get to that opportunity," Goodell said.

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, among the early favorites to go No. 1 overall, told USA Today he plans to accept an invitation to attend the NFL event.

"It's kind of a capstone of my life up to this point," Gabbert told the newspaper. "It's going to be extremely emotional and very special because of growing up as a kid seeing the guys walk across the stage; Seeing them get their name called in the first round. That's what I've always wanted to do."

However, his agent, Tom Condon, said he would strongly advise the players he represents to consider the NFLPA event.

Said Condon: "I'd tell them, 'You have to have an understanding that the NFL has locked you out, and they're insisting on an entry-level wage scale. … And those are your teammates [at the NFLPA event]. At some point, you're going to be in the locker room with those guys.'"

San Francisco linebacker Takeo Spikes echoed that, saying that the damage of snubbing the NFLPA in this case would probably be greater than snubbing the league.

"You're a player first," Spikes said. "That's the only way you'll ever be looked at, especially from management.

"It's all about, what have you done for me lately? If you're not playing, you're not producing out on the field, it doesn't matter if you walked across that stage or not."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.

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