SBD/Issue 141/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Upshaw Seeks Two Hires To Strengthen Control Within NFLPA

Upshaw Reaches Out To Two Former
NFLPA Members For Advisory Roles
NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw has "reached out" to former NFLPA President Trace Armstrong and former NFLPA exec committee member Robert Smith about rejoining the union in a "significant advisory capacity that will strategically fortify his front during unrest within the player ranks and a looming confrontation with NFL owners," according to sources cited by Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com. NFL player sources indicated that Upshaw's moves "could create more controversy for the members of the union who want to accelerate a succession plan for Upshaw's eventual departure as its leader." One NFLer noted that former NFLPA President Troy Vincent, who is considered a "future candidate" to replace Upshaw, was "instrumental in removing Armstrong from the agent-disciplinary committee." Smith was "adamant that he was never affected by Vincent's rule" as President." Ravens K and player rep Matt Stover, who last week suggested the NFLPA replace Upshaw before his contract expires in 2010, said Upshaw's latest moves were "interesting," but added, "I have no intention of ousting Gene prematurely." Mortensen noted when Upshaw last week promoted Clark Gaines to NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir, it "created some concern from Stover and other player reps that Upshaw was trying to influence the process." But Upshaw denied that claim and said anybody "who has carried the title of assistant executive director will tell you they never felt like they were the successor-in-waiting or a true No. 2." Upshaw: "Under our constitution I have full authority to hire anybody I want in our building. And with what we're facing on the labor front, we don't need to send a signal to owners that they can get a backdoor deal with a No. 2 guy" (ESPN.com, 4/11).

SKATING ON THIN ICE: Upshaw said that his decision "not to name a No. 2 executive is linked to the disastrous results that structure had" for the NHLPA during the league's lockout. SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Liz Mullen reports Upshaw was "so focused on not repeating the mistakes" of the NHLPA that last month during the NFLPA meetings in Hawaii he "discussed what happened during the hockey lockout at length." Upshaw added that his "concerns were heightened" when the NFL hired Bob Batterman, the NHL's labor attorney during the lockout. Upshaw: "You have to put this in the context of Bob Batterman being over there, advising the NFL owners. How can we look as much as possible like (the NHLPA)? One way is if you have a No. 2 you can make a deal with if you cannot make it with a No. 1." Mullen notes former NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow "deputized" then union lawyer Ted Saskin to lead CBA negotiations with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. But as Saskin and Daly "developed a close relationship, NHL players ended up making many concessions in bargaining, including agreeing to a salary cap." Upshaw noted, "There can only be one person in charge. Bob Goodenow was a good example of that" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/14 issue).

Feely Feels Upshaw Has Done Pheonomenal Job,
But His Leadership Style Can Also Be Detrimental
TIME FOR A CHANGE? An agent with "connections" to NFLPA execs said of the NFLPA, "The guys on top have been there for so long. They think everyone is an idiot and there is no communication with the membership. Management is always defensive and runs roughshod. He added: "Players are sick of the way they're being treated. The arrogance is out of control" But FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez wrote the "pure force of Upshaw's personality helped push through the last union pact that NFL owners now claim is too financially one-sided toward the players." Dolphins K and player rep Jay Feely: "Gene has done a phenomenal job in regard to what he has achieved for the players. Our benefits on the whole are much better than any other sports league." But Feely added, "The same leadership style that has benefited him at the negotiating table can sometimes be detrimental" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/11). Former NFLer Ted Johnson last month during an NFL symposium said, "The reason I think the union has issues is the average career length is 3.2 years. The average term for each player rep is two years. Gene Upshaw every year has to educate new union reps on the same (expletive) year after year. There's no momentum. He basically talks down to us" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/13). SI's Peter King writes, “I don't think there's enough momentum for a hostile takeover of the NFLPA right now, and I also don't think there's a logical successor among the players who want Upshaw out" (SI.com, 4/14).

REAX: CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman wrote Upshaw "hasn't been perfect," but "unions are messy, bloody places." Upshaw has been a "solid leader, surfing the egos, manipulating the membership (sometimes intimidating them) but most of all making his membership filthy rich. ... What's happening to Upshaw at the hands of some union memb ers is not only positively disgusting, intellectually lazy or borderline dishonest. ... What's happening to Upshaw is disloyal and traitorous" (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/11). In Boston, Mike Reiss wrote when NFL players and owners "agreed to the most recent CBA extension, it was owners who appeared more divided. Now, it seems, the tables are turned a bit" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/13). And in Chicago, Dan Pompei noted "political infighting in the NFLPA could provide owners with more incentive to opt out of the [CBA] as soon as November and set up an uncapped year in 2010." With Upshaw in control, the players are "getting the biggest slice of the pie they have ever gotten. Their slice is so big, in fact, that NFL owners want some of it back. That should tell the players what kind of job Upshaw has done." Pompei noted there "may be enough opposition [to Upshaw] to create problems." A source indicated that Stover is "acting at the behest" of Vincent (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/13).

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