DeMaurice Smith had barely settled behind the podium when University of Maryland students started chanting: "We want football."
Smith's response: "I want football, too."
The executive director of the NFL Players Association then gave a graduation speech that compared the players' lockout fight against the owners to the detractors the students will face in their future lives. For his final bit of advice, he turned on his own recording of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part 2)" and encouraged everyone to clap while shouting the mild profanity that Maryland fans insert into the song at basketball games.
"To anybody who thinks for one minute that passion is something that is cheap and futile, I have two words for them: 'You suck,'" Smith said. "And for anybody who would ever think that it is the wrong thing to do to care so much that you're willing to risk everything because it is right, reserve those two words for them."
It was an awkward moment, in part because Smith's recording of the song wasn't very loud. Many of the thousands who packed the Comcast Center — especially the families and friends — didn't play along.
After the speech, Smith was asked how those two words might work around a negotiating table.
"All I can do is tell you what I told my 6-year-old daughter when she heard it for the first time," he said diplomatically. "It's all about love."
Smith said no one should be "reading anything into anything" about his use of the song, other than the passion it evokes at Maryland basketball games. Passion was the theme of his speech, and he invoked it when he said the lockout shouldn't be reduced to a catch phrase like "Shut up and play."
"Do we care enough about who we are and who we want to be?" Smith said. "The decision to pursue and if necessary fight for what is fair was a decision those players made two years ago. And I've got to tell you, it's vastly different from something as simple as 'shut up and play.' That's not the decision that we made. We made the decision to fight for who we were going to be and who we are."
Smith, who attended classes at Maryland in 1985 and 1986, declined to comment on any specifics of the NFL's labor situation, including the recent court ruling in St. Louis that set back the players' hopes for an early end to the lockout.
"We believe as a group that it is important to fight for fairness," he said. "And I'm proud of the players who have stepped up to be leaders."
Later Thursday, New York Giants co-owner John Mara had an essay posted on nfl.com and giants.com in which he warned that any victory in the courts by the players could cause chaos throughout the sport.
"The likely changes would be great for NFLPA lawyers, but not for players, teams, or, most importantly, fans," Mara wrote. "For example, there could be no league-wide minimum player salaries, with many players making less than they do today, or no minimum team player costs, with many clubs cutting payrolls the way some teams do in other sports. Other bedrock components of the NFL's competitiveness, such as the draft, would be called into question and assailed as antitrust violations. ...
"There could be varying player benefit plans from team to team, and limits on the ability to enforce other league-wide rules that benefit players, especially rank-and-file players that do not go to the Pro Bowl."
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP