“Wherever Gene is, he should be ashamed of himself, and his family should be ashamed for taking that money,” said Bob Grant, a former linebacker for the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Colts who is part of a group of retired players suing the NFLPA and Players Inc., the NFLPA’s for-profit arm, for licensing money they say was denied to older players.
“We have great players from the past who played 10 years or more collecting no more than $200 per month,” Grant said.
“There’s no other union leader in this country who was compensated at the same rate as he was compensated,” said Bernie Parrish, a former Cleveland Browns defensive back who was part of a class-action suit that won a $28 million jury verdict against Players Inc. in 2008.
The fund, set up by Players Inc. in 1997, emerged in a filing by Upshaw’s son, Eugene Upshaw III, 40, of Orlando, who sued his father’s second wife to have his father’s will thrown out and his stepmother removed as executor of the estate. Gene Upshaw’s will left all of his assets to his second wife.
The trial was scheduled to start Monday in Fairfax County Circuit Court, but a settlement was reached on the eve of the trial. The terms have been kept confidential. Theresa L. Upshaw’s attorney, John Keith, declined to comment; John Hale, Eugene Upshaw’s attorney, did not return calls.
Elsewhere in the Fairfax courthouse, the probate file for Gene Upshaw’s estate reveals not only the $15 million payment but an additional $1.73 million in “past due compensation” from the NFLPA, also paid to his widow.
A deferred compensation fund is money an employee earns but agrees to receive at a later date. The money is typically invested, and taxes aren’t paid until the money is given to the employee. Details of how Upshaw’s $15 million fund worked were not available.
The Upshaws lived in Great Falls, where they kept eight luxury vehicles and a 32-foot boat, the probate inventory states. Gene Upshaw also owned a home in the Lake Tahoe area of California.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah declined to discuss the payout to Upshaw. An NFL Alumni Association spokesman did not return messages.
Upshaw was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders from 1967 to 1981. In 1983, he became executive director of the union, and he is widely credited with increasing the share of NFL revenue paid to the players, largely by helping to create free agency.
Government records show that Upshaw was paid a $4.3 million salary in 2006 and a $2.4 million bonus from Players Inc., making him the highest-paid union chief in pro sports by far.