Berthelsen Tells NFLPA to Seek Long-Term Director

Richard Berthelsen, 63, right, the NFLPA's interim director, says the union should find someone else to succeed Gene Upshaw, left.
Richard Berthelsen, 63, right, the NFLPA's interim director, says the union should find someone else to succeed Gene Upshaw, left. (2003 Associated Press Photo)
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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2008

Richard Berthelsen won't be the permanent successor to Gene Upshaw as executive director of the NFL Players Association.

Berthelsen, 63, the union's longtime general counsel who was named interim executive director following Upshaw's death last month, said yesterday that he has told members of the players' ruling executive committee they should seek a candidate more willing and able to commit to a lengthy stay as the leader of the union.

He reiterated, however, that he intends to remain with the union in some capacity through the completion of the next labor deal with the league's franchise owners.

"I have said I am committed to be with them for the duration of the current set of labor talks with the owners, in whatever capacity they want me," Berthelsen said in a telephone interview. "I also have told them that the players deserve someone who could be there for 10 years or longer in that job. At my age, I don't think I'm in position to do that."

The union has launched its search for Upshaw's permanent successor. The 10-member executive committee spoke via conference call eight days ago and appointed a seven-person search committee. The search committee's first task is to hire an outside search firm to identify candidates. The players hope to have a list of finalists for the job in January and are aiming to elect a new executive director in March at the union's annual meetings.

"The committee hasn't set one, but I think the timetable is pretty self-evident," Berthelsen said. "First a search firm has to be picked and then the search can proceed. The list can be narrowed down in January and then a certain number will be presented to the executive committee in March."

Berthelsen said the target number of finalists has not been determined.

The five players from the executive committee who are on the search committee are free agent safety Donovin Darius, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, Colts center Jeff Saturday, Falcons cornerback Domonique Foxworth and Jets fullback Tony Richardson. Also on the search committee are Titans center Kevin Mawae, the union's president, and Berthelsen.

The search process closely resembles the one Upshaw once recommended to the players to find his eventual successor after his planned retirement. Upshaw served as the union's executive director for 25 years before he died Aug. 20 at a home that he owned in California near Lake Tahoe. He'd gone to a nearby hospital three days earlier for tests and had an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer diagnosed.

The executive committee held an emergency conference call the day after Upshaw's death and named Berthelsen the acting executive director until March. Berthelsen has been involved in NFL labor negotiations on the players' side since 1972 and has been the union's general counsel since 1983.

Some players say they think the early front-runners to be Upshaw's permanent successor are former union presidents Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent. Former players Robert Smith and Mike Kenn also are regarded as potential candidates. Other possibilities could include Tom Condon, Upshaw's former agent and a past union president, and Doug Allen, a former union official who is the national executive director of the Screen Actors Guild.

Berthelsen said he expects the players to also consider candidates from outside the sport.

The NFL's labor agreement will run through the 2010 season after the owners voted in May to terminate it two years early. The 2009 season is the final one in the deal with a salary cap.

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