Gene Upshaw passed away yesterday at the age of 63. Coincidently, that was the number on his uniform during an incredible NFL career that included two Super Bowl wins and seven Pro Bowl appearances.
However, it will be for his leadership of NFL Players and the Union that he will be most remembered. For over 20 years, he served as head of the Union and was instrumental in positioning the NFLPA where it is today. From Free Agency for players to increased salaries and benefits, he battled a Machine, the NFL, that for years, had benefited from athletes on the field without giving much back to them.
Playing nine years in the NFL and having served as union representative for most of those years, I was able to experience first hand the results he had produced. People always had an issue here or there with what he was doing, but overall, no one could argue with his leadership. In any type of leadership position, it is difficult to please everyone all of the time. Being a retired player, there are benefits that I feel could have been addressed more for us. However, the retirement benefits that I now have are largely due to his ability to surround himself with strong leadership and get results. For that I am thankful.
His ability to relate to players and stand his ground when dealing with the NFL owners was an attribute to his strength, courage, integrity and most of all his tenacity. The next Executive Director will have some big shoes to fill, but I am confident that Gene set enough examples to follow.
That things that I love about sports/athletics are discipline, teamwork and leadership qualities. These are necessary to be successful on the field, court, in the water, on the bike, etc.
There are so many benefits to an Active life style whether competing against others or yourself, whether you are hoisting the championship trophy or handling defeat with dignity.
Thank you, Gene, for being an example to all athletes by realizing that our potential doesn't end when the last whistle blows and we walk off the field for the last time. Whether that is in high school, college, the Olympics or professional, we have the foundation to be successful in life.
Rest in Peace.