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.