Gene Upshaw, the often-controversial executive director of the NFL Players Association, died last night at the age of 63. He will be remembered not as a Hall-of-Fame guard for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, or the seven Pro Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl rings, but more for his tenacity in guiding players to new levels of benefits, compensation, and marketability.
He made news locally when Ravens kicker Matt Stover wrote a letter that implicitly called for Upshaw’s removal from his executive director post. The letter came on the heels of tense negotiations on salary cap and revenue sharing between the players and the owners, that had all the look of a league headed for a strike in 2011.
But through it all, Upshaw maintained a position of being a player advocate, and he deserves a lot of credit for helping to make the NFL the marketing machine it is today.