Titans C Kevin Mawae on the passing of Gene Upshaw



KEVIN MAWAE, AUG. 21, 2008**

(Opening remarks)

I would just like to start off first by saying a little bit about Gene Upshaw. For me he's been a friend, a mentor, and a leader in my life for the last ten years so the unexpected hearing of his death this morning was a shock to myself and to many others. The thing that I will always remember most about Gene was that he was a man of his convictions and he was the man that stood for the players and the NFL. I think that's evident in his almost thirty years of serving the union as a player representative, the president and the executive director. I came onboard about 10 years ago as a team representative and Gene was the guy that encouraged me to run and take that next step as far as executive committee membership and eventually becoming the president of the NFLPA. So the untimely passing of Gene Upshaw is a huge loss not just to myself, but to the players of the NFL and to the NFL in general. More importantly it's a loss to his family and to his children. It's one that we just wish our best from the players perspective and standpoint and wish the greatest condolences to [his wife] Terry and his three boys. There are reports out as to whether or not Gene knew he was sick or wasn't sick or what not. This came on as suddenly to him as it did to everybody else. Gene was on vacation with his family over the weekend, felt sick and his wife Terry took him to the hospital on Sunday morning. They said that they did some tests, ran some biopsies and found out that he had an advanced stage of pancreatic cancer. So over the last couple of days he's been with his family in their home. It wasn't until this morning that local media here in the Nashville area called me and asked me to comment on Gene's tragic death and I had no clue what they were talking about. I had to go on the internet and subsequently found out that Gene had indeed passed away last night. It's hard to put into words when you have spent so much time with a person and I've spent less time with him than most of the members of the PA in Washington, D.C. I spoke to Clark Gaines, and Jason Belser and Richard Berthlesen and other members of the staff of the PA and they're all where I'm at right now but at a much closer level, personal level. Clark Gaines is probably one of his closest friends. Rich Berthlesen as well and it's hard to even talk to them without them talking about the union. A lot is going to be said about what Gene's done and hasn't done for the former players, what he's doing for the current players, but I don't think that anybody will ever question his passion for the league and for the players of the NFL. We're at a time in this league right now that the money is far greater than it has ever been. The players are getting a bigger share than they ever have before in the past. Our benefit levels are the greatest of any sport in the country and it's all because of what Gene has done and the passion that he's put into his work. People can say what they want to say about Gene. There were some people that didn't like him, that said he was too brash, that he didn't stroke the the right way, but Gene always told you the truth. Gene got the job done when it boils down to it. His legacy will go on forever. He was a great player, obviously being in the Hall of Fame, but he was also a great leader to the NFLPA. The things that we have accomplished over the past and the things that we are experiencing now are a great deal because of what Gene has done. Recently, in the last couple hours I've had meeting with the Executive Committee of NFLPA. We've unanimously voted to name Richard Berthleson as the Interim Executive Director. He will be in that position until such a time that we decide to put together a search committee. Naming a new Executive Director will not take place until at the earliest, March 2009 or even beyond. Our union is still strong. I think Gene left it in a position where, we'll miss Gene but we're not going to miss a beat as far as where we're going. Our Collective Bargaining Agreement is still the biggest issue and Gene knew that. He knew that leaving and people on his staff knew that. It's where we stand right now. I've talked to Roger Goodell this morning. Obviously he passed on his condolences to myself and Gene's family. We've discussed ways in which we can honor Gene pretty soon, possibly in the preseason games. We'll have a meeting here probably in the next 15-20 minutes or so with the Player Advisory Council at which time we'll discuss how to do that. Gene was a great person and a great player and a great man, and I just feel blessed to have served under him and to speak on his behalf at times. It's a big loss. From the union standpoint we'll deal with it. We'll move on as Gene would want us to do and we'll continue to lean on one another and go on and have a successful 2008 season.

(On the strength of the union without Gene Upshaw)

Well we've named Richard Berthleson as our Interim Executive Director. Richard Berthleson has been a part of every negotiation process that we've had since I've been in the NFL. He knows the players and the game. He's worked closely with Kessler & Quinn, our outside attorneys. There wasn't a day that went by where he didn't discuss issues with Gene Upshaw. In terms of the NFLPA, the union and the relationship we've had with the NFL, we feel strongly that Richard was the guy to do it. Make no mistake that it was a unanimous vote by the Executive Committee that Richard was going to be the guy to lead us through this time.

(On his role expanding)

My role is ever-changing. Whether it's dealing with locker room issues and now with the death of Gene Upshaw, I'm sure that as things go on for the long-term future of the NFLPA, I'll be a great part of that. How much time of mine is it going to consume right now? I don't know. We are less than 24 hours from hearing of Gene's death so we are all trying to figure out what things are going to look like in just a short period, as opposed to a long-term deal. My goal and my job as the NFLPA president is to be a voice to the players, to communicate what's going on with the PA into the locker rooms. And I have an opportunity to do that whether its e-mail, text messaging, phone calls. The lines of communication have always been open with the players association and the locker room and that's what my job and focus will be.

(On how the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations will change)

Well now obviously is the time for us to mourn the loss of Gene. Business will resume soon at some point in time but as of right now the NFLPA offices are closed and the staff has been given the week off. This is a tragic blow. For those that have been to the offices in D.C., Gene was more than just a boss, he was a great friend to many people. So for us, to worry about what's going on with the CBA, it would be a disservice to Gene and his family. So right now we're going to mourn Gene's loss and deal with that and when it's time to discuss CBA issues we'll discuss those.

(On whether he will play in the game on Friday)

I plan on it. I'm making the trip with the team today and I have no reason not to play, but I know at some point in time in the pretty near future I'll probably need to make a trip to D.C. to meet with our staff attorneys or they'll come here and we'll have a meeting together. But at some point in time we'll be together. Like I said we'll have an executive meeting today, we're about to have a conference call and I'm meeting with the Player Advisory Council here in about five minutes. So players are aware of where we stand as a union and they know where we're at and they know where we're headed in the future.

(On whether there had been discussions of wearing a patch on jerseys to honor Upshaw)

Well we talked about that, that's one of the ideas, whether we wear a patch on our uniforms or a decal on our helmets and I know the commissioner has talked about having a moment of silence during the preseason games this week. But just a few moments of silence during the preseason won't do Gene Upshaw justice considering the impact he's had on us and this league for 30 or 40 years.

(On the specifics of what happened to Upshaw this weekend)

Well somebody said that he looked a little tired and Gene made a comment to that person, 'yeah I need to go on vacation and take a break.' And it wasn't until this weekend when his wife, as I was told, and the doctors said this morning on the conference call that Gene was feeling a little tired and a little sick. And against his wishes his wife took him to the emergency room at which time they did the test and found out something was wrong with him. Gene had no clue that he had this. His family didn't know and it was something that nobody knew about it.

(On what time he found out about Gene's death)

I found out about six o'clock this morning.

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