Despite Upshaw Death, Retired Players Feel Betrayed

Gene Upshaw
If there’s one thing that rings true, you do not speak ill of the deceased – no matter who they are. Try telling that to certain retired NFL players who, according to Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News, despite the recent passing of former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, are still bitter over Upshaw’s treatment of retired NFL players who had medical needs that were not addressed by the union.

Here’s some quotes from some of those retired players:

Former New York Giant Sam Huff: “In the end, Gene Upshaw did not take care of the guys who made the NFL what it is today. I feel sorry for his family. You want to be sympathetic but it is hard to do.”

Dave Pear, former teammate of Upshaw’s while with the Oakland Raiders: “He turned his back on his football brothers. He could have helped. But he didn’t, and families suffered as a result.”

Former Buffalo Bills player Joe DeLamielleure: “I hope this shows the brevity of life for NFL players. This was a tough guy, and I think current NFL players don’t understand how fragile life can be for even the toughest players. Maybe this will wake up the league.”

Former Chicago Bears tight end and NFL head coach Mike Ditka: “Gene was a great football player. The job he did to bring the Players Association to the position it is now in was tremendous. I don’t have to disagree with someone to respect them.”

I’ll first get this out of the way, although I already mentioned this: no matter who you are, no one should speak ill of the deceased. Now, having said that, it is known that Huff and other retired NFL players have long sought mass improvements to the NFL’s current disability and retirement plan. The plan, according to the retired players, is designed not to help players who suffered crippling injuries but to stifle them; the retired players also claim the plan shops for doctors until it gets medical opinions that the union wants to hear along with the lengthy and frequent delays involved.

Some issues are on the horizon for whoever the union elects as their next leader. Issues such as: Will any meaningful improvement be made to the plan in its current form? Will the union keep the status quo? One can assume that whoever the members of the NFLPA elects as their executive director, he will need to make some changes to the current system as it looks right now. Last time I checked, the NBA and some other professional sports leagues take better care of their retired players, both on a pension issuance and medical coverage basis. Which is unfortunate, considering that the NFL is by far the dominant pro sports league in existence. They’re obviously not pleading poverty and I cannot for the life of me understand why these improvements were not made even before current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came onto the scene. Improvements need to be made to the system and they need to be made ASAP.

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