Gene Upshaw served as the Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association from June 1983 to August 2008, after a successful 16-year career as a player. During that time, 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 60's, 70's and 80's.
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 he held until 1983.
In 1980, Gene was a recipient of the prestigious Byron ”Whizzer“ White Humanitarian Award for outstanding contribution to ”team, community and country“. 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 NFL PLAYERS, of which Gene was Chairman of the Board. Upshaw received his Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&I University in 1968. He also completed post graduate studies at both Golden Gate University and Lincoln University.
Upshaw is survived by his wife, Terri, and their two sons, Justin and Daniel.
Gene passed away suddenly on August 20, 2008 from pancreatic cancer at Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee.