In January, Scene published a story on the NFL’s financial abandonment of retired players (Forgotten Forefathers, January 16
) , with a focus on retired Browns. In the reporting, I spoke to probably a dozen ex-Browns, including Dick Schafrath, Leroy Kelly, Bernie Parrish, Cleo Miller, Greg Pruitt, and Bob Golic.
There was a near-consensus among these men on three points: pensions suck, disability payments suck, and NFL Players’ Association chief Gene Upshaw (pictured) is a heartless snake. (Sixties-era guard John Wooten dissented on the last aspect, and ‘80s cornerback-turned-condo-shiller Hanford Dixon
declined to comment). If it was up to these guys, Upshaw, who they blame for the sorry state of the NFL alumni—ex-players crippled by the game being turned down for disability, and Hall of Famers receiving pensions under $200 a month—would be ousted from his position today, and thrown in the gulag for good measure. ...
But retirees have no sway in the players’ union, which is pretty much what got them in this pickle in the first place. And current NFL players, living the Maserati lifestyle, and with a much-improved retirement system waiting for them, have little to complain about for themselves. But as the plight of the retired player has garnered more and more media attention, current players have begun to rally for the cause. Kyle Turley, the figurehead of players donating game checks last season
, criticized Upshaw for his inaction towards retired players, and one current player I spoke with, Kawika Mitchell of the Giants, said he would vote to replace Upshaw with the union chief’s nemesis, Parrish, if given the chance.
On Monday, it became clear that there’s a movement in place to oust Upshaw even before his term expires in 2010. The diligent folks over at ESPN got their hands on a private e-mail
from Raven player representative Matt Stover to other reps around the league. In it, Stover calls for Upshaw’s replacement to be in office by March ’09—less than a year from now, which presumably means the process would kick off pretty shortly. There’s no indication that Stover’s motivated by the retired players issue—ESPN cites sources saying he’s pissed about Upshaw’s exorbitant contract, which pays $24 million over six years—but either way, I’m sure plenty of former Browns are pleased with the news of dissent.
But even if Upshaw is ousted, there’s no telling if retired players will be content with his replacement. Parrish had vowed to run for the seat, but there’s roughly no chance that current players will vote for an old man so singularly obsessed with the rights of NFL retirees. Recently-retired Troy Vincent, the former NFLPA president under Upshaw, is considered the front-runner. And with the retired players, he gets marks off by association.
"If he's hanging out with Upshaw," said Joe DeLamielleure, Browns lineman in the ‘80s, "I wouldn't trust him." – Gus Garcia-Roberts