Raiders, Ravens clipped: Upshaw's lament

The NFL Players Association took a cue from their former leader, the late Gene Upshaw, this week. The announcement from the NFL that the Oakland Raiders docked two days due to violations of the offseason rules sounds from the Upshaw era. For a good part of Upshaw’s last decade of his tenure, he made this a priority issue with the NFL.

Wings clipped

The Ravens and Raiders were caught with their tail (wings?) between their legs when they their OTAs (Organized Team Activities) were downsized as punishment. The announcement spoke to the “intensity and tempo of drills” of their workouts, which translates to saying that the team was, shall we say, a bit overzealous with what are supposed to be light and easy offseason activities among their players. For the

Ravens, general manager Ozzie Newsome – whose playing career intersected with Upshaw at its beginning -- and head coach John Harbaugh were contrite about the team’s error and accepted the penalty with contrition.

It is interesting that the team at issue in this case was the Ravens, the team of cornerback Dominique Foxworth. Foxworth is the youngest member of the NFLPA Executive Committee and keenly interested in labor issues so important to the league's future. Foxworth is a name to watch as he is a trusted deputy of NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.

Protecting the body

I always wondered why, with all the issues between the NFL and the NFLPA, why Upshaw made it such a priority to curtail these workouts during the offseason. After all, the amount of time that teams required players to be around the facility doing more than getting a workout out was a tiny slice of the six-month offseason for NFL players. What was the big deal if players pushed each other around for a couple weeks?

Well, to Upshaw, a former player, it was a big deal. Gene was extremely concerned about protecting a player’s time and, more importantly, his body during the months between the end of one grueling season and the start of another.

I remember when Upshaw would do his annual visit to our facilities in Green Bay. Having known Gene a long time -- I interned with the NFLPA while in law school in the mid-eighties -- we would always visit and have breakfast or lunch when he stopped in. One time, after he just went through getting discipline for three teams getting overactive with their workouts, he just sat there and shook his head.

"They got nothing to do"

When Upshaw started venting about the workouts, which was often, he would say something to this effect: “These coaches sit around and have nothing to do. Then their players show after a couple of months away and they can’t help themselves. They want to coach these guys up and get them hitting. They get them in their offices and don’t let them leave because they got nothing to do. They can’t do that.”

Upshaw had a special concern for coaches at his old position, offensive line coaches who, along with defensive line coaches, would always tempt the rules of non-contact practices.

Now the union, under the new leadership of DeMaurice Smith, has joined the mission. They have sent a message to the rest of the league – through the Ravens and Raiders – that these OTAs are being watched closely and players are encourage to report to the union if the workouts take on a “tempo and intensity” beyond what the intention of these workouts are.

Another issue to bargain

Smith, of course, has a lot on his plate in the midst of this highly important collective bargaining negotiation, including another issue raised yesterday, yet as the union prepares for another bargaining session this month, it is able to slap the hand of one of the members of the league it is negotiating with.

A win for the union? Maybe a small one. More importantly, it is a testament to the legacy of the man for whom the building the NFLPA offices is named for, Gene Upshaw. He would be happy to know of the slapping of the wrists of the Ravens and Raiders this week.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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