NFLPA Executive Director, Gene Upshaw, passed away last night at the age of sixty-three. The news comes just days after Upshaw was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While Gene Upshaw has definitely had his fair share of critics since leaving his professional football playing days to take over the throne at the NFLPA, his critics would still say that he always had the players’ interests in mind and fought long and hard to make the NFLPA a strong entity that owners would not be able to ignore.
Gene Upshaw became Executive Director of the NFLPA in 1983 and served in such capacity until his recent death. He has been a topic of conversation numerous times on SportsAgentBlog.com. In 2007, he was ranked #33 in BusinessWeek’s Power 100. But earlier this year, we started to cover some of the complaints that Upshaw was receiving from within his players’ association. Matt Stover said that Upshaw was on his way out as Executive Director, but Kevin Mawae, the active-players-leader of the NFLPA, refuted Stover’s comment. It did not help that Dawkins backed Stover’s claim. Gene Upshaw did not want to hear the mention of a succession plan, and got veterans like Trace Armstrong to defend him against those who were making public statements against his role as Exec Director.
No matter what your thoughts are on how Gene Upshaw handled the oversight of NFL players, you can be rest assured that he cared about active, injured, and retired players alike. For over twenty years, his life was devoted to giving NFL players increased rights and strengthening their position against ownership in connection with labor issues. Gene will be missed by all.