Gene Upshaw served as Executive Director of the National Football LeaguePlayers Association from June of 1983 until his death in 2008, which followed a successful 16-year career as a player. Before losing his battle to pancreatic cancer at the age of 63, Upshaw worked diligently at enhancing, protecting and defending the individual rights of professional football players throughout the National Football League. Upshaw also served as Chairman of National Football League Players Incorporated.
A perennial All-Pro offensive guard for the Oakland Raiders, Upshaw was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, his first year of eligibility. He played in 217 league games and appeared in six Pro Bowls. He
was named Lineman of the Year in the AFC in 1973 and 1974. In 1977, he was voted top lineman in the NFL, and runner-up for that honor in 1980. Upshaw is the only player in NFL history to play in three Super Bowls in three different decades in the 60¹s, 70¹s and 80¹s.
Upshaw was a team captain, while also serving as an NFLPA player representative and officer for 13 years. He served as alternate representative or player representative for the Raiders from 1970 to 1976 and was a member of the executive committee from 1976 through 1980 when he was elected president of the NFLPA, a post to be held until 1983.
As an officer of the NFLPA, Upshaw took part in all negotiations leading up to the 1977, 1982 and 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and the NFL, and extensions of the CBA in 1996, 1998 and 2001.
As an officer of the NFLPA, Upshaw took part in all negotiations leading up to the 1977, 1982 and 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and the NFL, and extensions of the CBA in 1996, 1998 and 2001. Serving as an AFL-CIO vice president, Upshaw emerged as one of the most
powerful labor leaders in America.
In 1980, Gene was a recipient of the prestigious Byron ³Whizzer² White Humanitarian Award for outstanding contribution to ³team, community and country.² In 1982, he was honored with the A. Phillip Randolph Award for significant accomplishments as one of the outstanding black leaders in America. In 1993, Upshaw was listed as 13th in the top 100 most powerful people in sports, according to the 1993 edition of the annual list compiled by The Sporting News.
Upshaw made the NFLPA a leader among players associations by making it the first such association to create a for-profit corporation for player group licensing. That company is called National Football League Players
Incorporated, also known as PLAYERS INC, and Upshaw served as the chairman of the board. This unique corporation expanded beyond the typical association licensing activities. PLAYERS INC is involved in the creation, ownership and marketing of special events, promotions, publishing and recording and broadcasting project, just to name a few of its groundbreaking achievements.
Upshaw received his bachelor’s of science degree from Texas A&I University (now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville) in 1968. He also completed graduate studies at both Golden Gate University and Lincoln University.
He was survived by his wife, Terri, and three sons, Justin, Daniel and Eugene.