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Posted at 2:28 PM ET, 01/30/2011

Paul Tagliabue takes issue with description of Gene Upshaw's role

By Cindy Boren

Paul Tagliabue, who hasn't spoken often about football matters since he stepped down as NFL commissioner in 2006, defended the late Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association and Tagliabue's frequent adversary in labor negotiations, in a letter to the New York Times' Business section Sunday.

A story in the Times' Business section Jan. 23, described the relationship between Tagliabue and Upshaw, who died in August 2008, as "close." According to the story:

[Upshaw and Tagliabue] ... seemed to backslap their way from agreement to agreement. Their easy relationship over a quarter-century firmly entrenched the N.F.L. as the pre-eminent professional sport in America.

Tagliabue, who has served as an outside consultant to the NFL since retiring, responded, mentioning specifically a comment that "we are at war" by present NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith to players:

To the editor:
Re "Quarterback for a Team of 1,900" about the National Football League Players Association and its contract dispute with the league:
I take issue with a description of the role of Gene Upshaw, the former head of the players' union, in the labor movement and with the article's characterization of his relationship with N.F.L. management.
Mr. Upshaw served for two decades on the executive council of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., often drawing on the position in securing the interests of N.F.L. players. And far from having a backslapping, "easy relationship," Mr. Upshaw and I (and others in the N.F.L.) had a constructive relationship that grew out of one imperative that is absent today: We both had two decades of deep experience as adversaries in a highly destructive labor-management "war."
Mr. Upshaw was in the picket lines and other trenches when many people now involved in the union's side were in high school or younger. Recall the 1982 players' strike, as well as the 1987 strike that resulted in three "replacement" games.
Like others who have experienced a war's destruction first-hand, Mr. Upshaw and I (and others) came to see the value of peace. An extraordinary game, coupled with reasonable revenue and cost-sharing, soon created the means to achieve it.
Paul Tagliabue
Washington, Jan. 26

By Cindy Boren  | January 30, 2011; 2:28 PM ET
Categories:  NFL  
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