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The big question: Who will NFL players pick to lead them through next labor talks?

With the tragic death of Gene Upshaw, who ran the NFLPA for 25 years, the top question is, Who will assume control of the union? It is not known when a decision will be made, but the next scheduled meeting for the board of player representatives, which elects the executive director, is set for March in Maui, Hawaii.

Here are some potential candidates for the job.


Richard Berthelsen
The new acting executive director and longtime general counsel, Berthelsen would be a natural for the job and, more than anyone else, would assure a seamless transition. But Berthelsen, who has been the general counsel for 37 years, is nearing retirement age, and there is a belief that the players may want to choose a former NFL player.
Troy Vincent
Past player president, now retired from the NFL, Vincent had long been seen as Upshaw’s successor until the duo had an apparent falling out earlier this year. Sources said there was a failed coup attempt to unseat Upshaw and put Vincent in his place at the union’s annual meeting in Maui. Vincent denied being a part of any such attempt, but the incident may have hurt his chances of taking the top job.
Trace Armstrong
Player president before Vincent, Armstrong was an ardent Upshaw loyalist who played defensive end in the league for more than 15 years. Upshaw brought Armstrong back as an informal union adviser after news of player unrest within the union ranks broke in April.
Robert Smith
Upshaw also reached out to Robert Smith, the former Minnesota Vikings running back, to act in an advisory capacity to the union. Smith, who retired from his playing career at the age of 28, was not a former NFL player president, but served on the executive committee as well as on the NFLPA’s Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline.
Jeffrey Kessler
Outside counsel to the NFLPA and, along with Upshaw, a ferocious public defender of the union’s positions with the owners. However, Kessler, co-chair of litigation at law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, has a full-time law practice with a mix of clients, not just the NFLPA.
Kevin Mawae
The veteran NFL center did not go to the annual NFLPA meeting in March with a plan to become the union’s player president, but agreed to stand for election because of concerns over what was going on at the meeting. It is not clear whether Mawae, who is an active player, wants the job, but he was able to get the majority of player representatives to back him in the most recent election.
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