By now you’ve likely heard about Chris Mortenson’s report regarding Ravens kicker and player rep Matt Stover’s email circulating about removing NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw by March 2009, and Upshaw’s insistence that he will be staying on as the head of the union. The urgency on Stover’s behalf (and I presume a sizable contingent of the union, otherwise he wouldn’t float this at all) is because the owners are prepared to drop out of the collective bargaining agreement, creating an uncapped year in 2010 and, if it’s not resolved, a possible strike or lockout.
Upshaw should have been gone a while ago. I’ll try to outline this quickly:
1) Letting Roger Goodell run rampant on player discipline: Upshaw permitted a bad precedent to take place with regard to public discipline of players. No matter what your perception of Adam Jones, Chris Henry, and some of the more extreme examples, the NFLPA gave cursory objection to what was an unprecedented suspension policy, and even less fight in the case of someone like Odell Thurman — who was suspended for repeated DUIs and then was not reinstated after re-applying last July — without an explanation from the commissioner’s office as to why. This is a poor, poor precedent to allow.
2) Player protections in a booming sport: I understand the economics of football a little (but not much), and understand that signing an entire 53-man squad to guaranteed contracts is an impossibility. But the lack of protections for players who can be cut on a whim, most with very little in the way of warning or compensation, seems like something the union ought to have been addressing when the NFL effectively became the country’s most popular sport.
3) Medical issues with the veterans: Upshaw has been the most stubborn when dealing with retired players suffering from various medical ailments, making verbal miscues like threatening a former Patriots defensive player who said he wasn’t doing enough. MLB’s union is something the NFLPA would do well to emulate on medical — they get lifetime coverage out of the deal in their CBA, and the failure to ensure better medical benefits for NFL players is a bad mark for his record.
These are the three big reasons, and it all comes because Upshaw has been way too close with Goodell and his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue. A bit more confrontation at the bargaining table would serve the players well, and the players probably need a new face to do it.