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Stover's message: Kick out Upshaw

The Baltimore Sun

Matt Stover, the Ravens' veteran place-kicker and the team's representative to the NFL Players Association, has urged his fellow reps that longtime executive director Gene Upshaw be replaced.

Stover wrote in the e-mail that he was part of a conference call Friday of players representatives who discussed the possible ouster of Upshaw, the head of the NFL players union since 1983, ESPN reported yesterday.

"I am not the only rep who listened and felt that it was time for a change," Stover wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by ESPN.

Stover could not be reached for comment, but in a statement released by the Ravens, the 18-year veteran said: "I'm going to respect the process of our union leadership, executive committee and player reps. I choose to handle this matter privately. It was certainly not my intention for my private e-mail to a select group to become public."

Stover has never publicly criticized Upshaw's performance. There is no particular reason given for the recent move to oust Upshaw, but critics of the Hall of Famer have said he runs the union in a dictatorial fashion and has not done enough to improve the pension and disability plans for retired players.

Former Baltimore Colt Bruce Laird, who heads a retired NFL players group, said in a statement: "I've known Matt for 12 years and have found him to be a man of courage, compassion and conviction. ... We are tremendously proud of Matt ... to advocate for change."

In the e-mail, Stover said he hoped a new executive director would be in place by March 2009. Upshaw, whose contract runs through 2010, told ESPN he informed player reps at their annual meeting last month in Hawaii that he wouldn't leave until a new labor agreement is reached. The two sides agreed in 2006 on a six-year labor contract, but the NFL owners are considering opting out of that deal in November.

While acknowledging there is a group looking to replace him, Upshaw, 62, doesn't express much regard for Stover.

"Matt Stover has no clue," Upshaw told ESPN. "Whoever is pulling his chain is doing a disservice to the union. I could understand the idea that they need to get rid of me if I wasn't doing a good job, but, shoot, the owners are mad because they think I've done too good of a job."

At the annual meeting in Hawaii, a group of player reps believed to be in favor of replacing Upshaw tried to get Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins elected as the NFLPA's active-players leader. But Dawkins lost to Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, according to sources cited in ESPN's report. Mawae is believed to be a supporter of Upshaw, according to ESPN.

Dawkins had been supported by his former mentor, Troy Vincent, who served as NFLPA president while with the Eagles and later when he played briefly with the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins. Vincent retired after the 2006 season.

Vincent, who still does work for the NFLPA, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Upshaw.

Last season, Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Kyle Turley became the first active player to publicly criticize Upshaw, calling for active players to donate their entire game checks from Week 15 of the season to a group called Gridiron Greats, which tries to help retired players pay medical bills. Turley said "15 to 20" players had told him they would donate their checks.

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