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Foxworth's focus was on improving player safety

Ravens cornerback emerged as a pivotal leader for the players throughout lockout

By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

8:31 PM EDT, July 25, 2011

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From the beginning of the labor fight with NFL owners, the rallying cry for Domonique Foxworth focused on health and safety issues — protecting players from the inherent violence of the game.

When the two sides finally raised a flag of truce Monday, ending a 136-day lockout of players, the Ravens cornerback was able to revel in a victory that should make football safer for players at all levels.

In itself, elimination of the football staple of two-a-day practices was reason enough to celebrate.

"It's a big win," Foxworth said of the historic ban on two practices in one day. "It was very, very hard. It's hard to change status quo in anything. We wanted to change the course of football and make it safer for players. We are the pinnacle for football. We set the standard for everyone else. We believe these sort of things will trickle down and make it safer for college, high school and youth league players."

After a season in which head trauma and the after effects of concussions dominated headlines, the NFL Players Association made player safety the highest priority. Foxworth, the youngest member of the NFLPA's executive committee at 28, said it was one of the few issues players were willing to walk away from the negotiating table over.

On July 6 — almost four months into the lockout — the issue of player safety came resoundingly to the forefront once again. That's the day Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey died after a lengthy struggle with dementia. If it did not have an effect on negotiations, it at least had an effect on the players.

Psychologically and motivationally, Foxworth said, "it reminded us what we were trying to get done."

Mackey was the first union president in the NFL, which tied him further to the players' cause. One day last week, the 13 executive committee members and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the union, signed three Mackey jerseys.

"He was a motivating factor in establishing the Legacy Fund" for retired players, Foxworth said.

Foxworth, a Baltimore native and former star at Maryland, made the choice to become deeply involved in the union almost four years ago, when he was named to the executive committee. He remembers talking to his wife, Ashley, about possible repercussions of having a union profile when he made the decision to commit.

"Mackey is a good example of how being an outspoken member of the PA can cost you," Foxworth said. "I told her I could possibly be blackballed. She gave me her blessing to step up, and my number was called. I don't know what the price [of involvement] might be in the future … but I'm happy with the decision I made."

Even though he continued to rehabilitate himself from knee surgery that shelved him in 2010, Foxworth was one of only two players not to miss a union meeting since June 28, according to NFLPA president Kevin Mawae. Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday was the other.

"We couldn't have done this without a strong executive committee and our board of players, but I've got to give a tip of the hat to Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth," Mawae said during a news conference in Washington Monday announcing the 10-year labor agreement. "A lot of credit goes to those guys for pounding it out and doing the dirty work for us."

Foxworth said he and Saturday were able to keep a pulse on the players, and their commitment to the cause enabled the union leaders to press on through a myriad of complexities.

"Jeff and I proved ourselves," Foxworth said. "We've gone through the process as knowledgeable players and savvy negotiators. We had the ability to move players one way or the other, and to talk on any of the issues. … We thought we had leverage in different places, but the best place to get leverage is in the strength of the players. We convinced [the owners] we weren't going to get broken."

In the end, Foxworth felt he had left his stamp on the negotiations and the agreement.

"I take a great deal of pride with what we did," he said. "I still take offense to anybody who will pick it apart as not a good deal. We tried to make it a fair deal. Our main goal was to protect our players any way we possibly could."

Now that he helped resolve the simmering NFL lockout, did Foxworth have any advice for President Obama on the national deficit?

"He's free to call me," he said, "but I don't think Coach [John] Harbaugh will let me go, though."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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