August 23, 2008
The sports world lost a true giant this week with the death of Gene Upshaw. The 63 year old Upshaw died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. He only learned he had one of the most devastating forms of cancer this past Sunday. Gene Upshaw helped shape the current NFL both as a Hall of Fame offensive guard for the Oakland Raiders and later as the long time executive director of the NFL Players Association.
Under Upshaw’s leadership NFL players salaries skyrocketed and the league became more successful and profitable than ever. His dignified manner and tough negotiating posture made him formidable at the bargaining table but also allowed him the perspective to understand that the players and the owners were indeed partners in the success of the NFL.
Upshaw will be hard to replace, he helmed the NFLPA for 25 years. He was hailed during his life as a trailblazer for players and the league in general. Was he universally popular? Not always. But he was respected across the board.
Gene Upshaw, the Hall of Fame player, was every bit a Hall of Fame executive. He made a difference. He will be missed.
August 25, 2006
The more I think about what Bryant Gumbel said about NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw on his HBO Real Sports show, the angrier I’m getting about it. I have long been a Bryant Gumbel admirer because of his intellect, savvy and composure – which to my thinking remains unmatched on television. But why did he have to say what he said about Upshaw particularly the way he said it? Gumbel used veiled racial language in demeaning and ridiculing Upshaw. He said that new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should make sure to use the “leash” that his predecesor Paul Tagliabue apparently used to keep the “docile” Upshaw in line.
If Gumbel was a white person – can we say Rush Limbaugh – there would be an uproar about his comments. So while I defend Gumbel’s right to say anything he wants – let’s be very clear – he was outrageously over the line in the manner in which he talked about another intelligent and ultra successful black man. It wasn’t some cerebral observation as has long been Gumbel’s trademark, this so-called observation seemed unnecessarily personal and ugly. Gumbel easily could have disagreed with Upshaw and his policies and approach as NFLPA chief without being disagreeable and demeaning. And while I hope he isn’t fired from his new job at the NFL Network as a play by play announcer for what he said about the Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw, I can now say that upon reflection I will NEVER feel the same about Bryant Gumbel again. I’m truly disappointed!