Thursday, August 21, 2008

Will Upshaw's passing lead to NFLPA change?

Gene Upshaw, head of the NFLPA, passed away at the age of 63, losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. Upshaw has been the man atop the NFLPA for more than 20 years, and I would venture a guess that the players that played in the league while he was the union boss would say he did a good job for them.

Upshaw, however, was not the favorite guy for those that played before his tenure. Joe DeLamielleure, an NFL Hall of Famer in his own right, has been one of the more outspoken former NFL greats calling Upshaw to task about the way the union looks after the players that helped build the NFL into what it is today. DeLamielleure's statements have led to various meetings, and press conferences calling for Upshaw's removal as NFLPA head, and for the financial assistance of players whose medical bills far outweigh their current income.

Back in April, placekicker Matt Stover sent out an e-mail to other player representatives in the NFL, outlining a plan for the removal of Upshaw, and having a new leader in place by 2009. That e-mail was dismissed by Upshaw, saying "Matt Stover has no clue. Whoever is pulling his chain is doing a disservice to the union. I could understand the idea that they need to get rid of me if I wasn't doing a good job but, shoot, the owners are mad because they think I've done too good of a job."

Somewhere in there is the truth. Upshaw is no longer a part of this equation. The former players are still in need of the financial means to stay well. The current players now search for a new leader that will help them towards their retirements from the game. To me, there has to be a means to be able to do both, and do it well.

The players of yesterday played, got hurt, kept themselves on the field in the best way they knew how, and are now paying the price for it. Their bodies ache, creak and crack--constant reminders of their sacrifice to the game. They did so in the age before multi-million dollar contracts, and 10 digit signing bonuses. They did it before there was an NFL television package that gave fans the option of watching every game on a weekend, if they chose to. They did it before there was a revenue stream comparable to the Mississippi River.

Today's players live in that world. Today's players, as long as they don't do anything stupid like get mixed up in illegal activities, should be able to survive, and survive quite well, on what they earn in football. The ones with the gigantic contracts will likely continue to give back in the community through their foundations, and other charitable work. On their own, they should be fine financially.

The next leader of the NFLPA should be a guy that can make both sides of the equation work. It was reported on that Upshaw was paid more than $6.6 million dollars for his union related activity from March 1, 2006 through February 28th, 2007. From the site: "The union's tax filing shows that Upshaw received a Gross Salary Disbursement of $4,264,577, which includes a bonus of $3,600,000. Upshaw also received a bonus of $2,400,000 from Players Inc, for a total of $6,664,577."

$6.6+ million? Therein lies the problem. Why is one person commanding that kind of loot as a union leader? If the new person cuts his/her salary down to a paltry $1 million a year, that's $5.6 million that can be infused to other areas of the NFLPA duties. Remember, I'm on the outside of all this, and I would bet there is much more to this job than just pointing the finger at the players of yesterday and saying, "Tough luck, pal. We don't have to help you, as our responsibility is to the players of today."

Upshaw did come out and say that the players of yesterday need the help, and took steps that, on the surface, made it look like he was concerned. The NFLPA in the post-Upshaw era needs to take those steps a little more seriously.

Remember, for every one star in the league like Terrell Owens, there are 20-25 players that won't see that kind of money, pay a far more exacting physical price, and not have the means to pay those medical bills once they leave the game.

While the NFLPA, and the NFL mourn the loss of Upshaw, both sides need to look to the future--and make it better for all parties, past and present.

Mike Solarte

No comments: