George Atallah: No draft boycott

Updated: March 16, 2011, 3:22 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NFL Players Association executive George Atallah said Tuesday that players and their families will be in New York for the NFL draft next month, but the experience might be "different." Atallah made his comments both on Twitter and in an appearance on ESPN's "NFL Live."

Agent Tom Condon, who represents quarterback Blaine Gabbert -- currently tabbed as the No. 1 overall pick by ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper in his latest mock draft -- told ESPN's "SportsCenter" that the NFLPA might hold an "alternative event" for the players who will be drafted.

"It would be the same but instead of walking across the stage and shaking hands or getting a man hug from a commissioner who of course has locked you out and is insisting on a wage scale, you'd be walking across the stage and maybe get a handshake from [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice Smith, who of course is fighting for you not to have a wage scale and not to lock you out," he said.

Atallah The NFL Draft is special. Players and their families will be in NYC. It just maybe different. We will provide details when we can.

-- George Atallah tweet

In an interview with ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on "SportsCenter" on Tuesday night, commissioner Roger Goodell expressed his disappointment with the union's plan.

"I think it's a shame for young men that are starting their careers in the NFL, that are having that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come across the stage, become an NFL player for the first time [to not be able to attend the draft]," Goodell told Schefter. "It's a really special moment and I hope they get to experience it."

Multiple league sources told Schefter on Monday that the NFLPA is putting into place a plan that would prevent each top college prospect from attending the draft. According to the sources, the 17 top prospects who ordinarily would have received an invitation to attend the draft have been contacted and it was recommended that they not attend.

One source told Schefter on Monday that the NFLPA plans to give the prospects the "same experience down the street."

Goodell told Schefter that he has not heard anything from the union about the plan officially, but said it wouldn't be the first time draftees were not in attendance.

"The draft in the past we didn't have players there," Goodell said. "It's just part of our effort to make it more of a fan event, to make it more appealing.

"We had 45 million people watching the draft last year ... people love to see the reaction of these players and that's part of the excitement of this event."

Atallah would not go into details of the NFLPA's plan but told ESPN: "It will be special for those young men whatever we have in store."

The NFLPA's plan has not been well-received by ESPN.com poll voters. A SportsNation poll with more than 75,000 votes reveals that 72 percent think the plan is a bad public relations move.

Atallah noted the fans' frustration with the NFL's work stoppage and posted a series of tweets trying to clarify the issues.

"Lots of interesting commentary on the possible NFL Draft issue. Fans rightfully frustrated. We will set the record straight today.

"Let me also correct the record: the NFLPA is not asking anyone to 'boycott' anything. NFL Draft in particular.

"The NFL Draft is special. Players and their families will be in NYC. It just maybe different. We will provide details when we can.

"I have been careful about what I can say on the record given our post-lockout world. There is a lot of frustration out there from everyone.

"The anger is palatable, but stick with us, we will be return to our positive message. We will get back to focusing on the good."

Atallah expanded on his tweets later Tuesday in an interview with "NFL Live."

"Our players are locked out. Past players, present players and future players," Atallah said. He emphasized that players who will be drafted are coming into a league where they can't negotiate contracts, meet with their new coaches or new teams.

"Most importantly, they can't play football," he said.

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, the top player on Kiper's Big Board, however, told a website Monday that he'd like to attend the real thing if possible.

"That's a big moment to go up there and shake the commissioner's hand and get that jersey and hat. It means a lot," Peterson told the National Football Post. "I definitely want to go and no one has told me not to go. So, we'll see what happens."

Peterson also told the website that he had not been contacted by the NFLPA.

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a likely top-10 pick, told ESPN that he also hasn't been contacted by the NFLPA. He also hasn't heard from the NFL, he said.

"If I do get an invite it's something I'll have to talk to my parents about," he said.

The NFL on Monday said it was up to the invited players whether to attend the draft, to be held at Radio City Music Hall April 28-30.

"We plan to invite the 15 to 20 top prospects and their families to New York as we normally do for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. And, as always, it is the decision of the players and their families as to whether they attend," league spokesman Greg Aiello said in response to the report.

While the NFL always has paid the expenses for the invited players and their immediate family to attend the draft, the league said it would not pay players a fee in an attempt to have them present this year.

New York Giants president and CEO John Mara said in an appearance on ESPN 1050 in New York that it would be unfortunate if the NFLPA advises incoming rookies to stay away from the draft.

"These young men, it is a special time in their lives," Mara said. "They only get one opportunity to go up on that stage and be announced as a first-round pick in front of their friends and family. The only people that suffer are the young men who are going to be drafted."

Current NFL player Nick Collins, a safety with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, said Tuesday that he believes prospects should be able to attend the draft.

"I don't think it's fair, but at the same time, we're in a situation where we don't know what's going on," Collins said on ESPN's "First Take." "But at the end of the day, you got to let those guys enjoy that moment. That's the only thing they have left."

Although the union has decertified, the NFLPA still exists as a professional trade association. By decertifying it declared itself out of the business of representing players, but still exists to support the interests of current and former NFL players.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is so frustrated by the failed labor talks that he went as far as calling the NFL "modern-day slavery" in an interview with Yahoo! Sports last Friday shortly after the union decertified.

"It's modern-day slavery, you know? People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too. With all the money ... the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money. I understand that; these are business-minded people. Of course this is what they are going to want to do. I understand that; it's how they got to where they are now. But as players, we have to stand our ground and say, 'Hey -- without us, there's no football,' " he said.

Peterson's "slavery" comment was removed from the blog post for several hours Tuesday but has since been restored. Author Doug Farrar said on Twitter that he initially removed it because "I want to give him the opportunity to explain what he really meant. Because I don't think he meant to connect the two."

Running back Ryan Grant of the Packers took offense to Peterson's comment, posting his reaction Tuesday on Twitter.

"Their is unfortunately actually still slavery existing in our world.. Literal modern day slavery.. That was a very misinformed statement," he wrote. "But I understand what point he was trying to make.. I just feel like he should have been advised a little differently."

Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, said in a statement to the Star Tribune that he hopes his client's comment doesn't get taken "out of context." Dogra said Peterson was traveling to Africa for a Starkey Hearing Foundation mission and would not be available to comment himself.

"I think anybody that knows Adrian knows that Adrian is a very strong-willed and passionate individual," Dogra told the newspaper. "The game means an awful lot to him. People should not just take his statements per se word by word. It's a difficult time. He would love to play. I'm sure that everybody would love to see football continue in the NFL and I'm sure at some point it will get resolved. But Adrian, that's what makes him great. He's soft-spoken but if he has something on his mind he'll speak it. But I think nobody should really look at those words and take them out of context."

Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was used in this report.

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