Gene Upshaw, president of the National Football League Players Association, has died from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was the longest-tenured labor leader in professional sports, having been director of the NFLPA since 1983. He was also the only player to appear in the Super Bowl in three different decades — the 60s, the 70s and the 80s — as a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the Oakland Raiders.
Upshaw was one of the most powerful figures in sports, presiding over the players’ union during a tenure that spanned three NFL commissioners. He helped secure free agency for players, and he kept the union solidified during a strike in 1987. During his tenure, salaries increased enormously, and the union was able to win a larger share of the league’s revenue for players.
Uphaw was vacationing in Lake Tahoe with his family when he died, NFL Network reported.
Upshaw, through his involvement with the NFLPA as a player and as executive director, played a major role in the collective bargaining agreements of 1977, 1982 and 1993, as well as extensions of the CBA in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Upshaw had vowed to remain head of the players union through the next collective bargaining agreement, despite some players feeling that it was time for a change in leadership. It is unclear who will fill the huge leadership void left by Upshaw’s death.