The death of Gene Upshaw, a former offensive guard for the Oakland Raiders and current head of the NFL Players Association, comes as a sad shock to me.
For all my fond memories of Upshaw's work on the Raiders offensive line, his greatest legacy will be his work as head of the NFL Players Association, the players union. The collective bargaining agreement(CBA) which Upshaw negotiated with Paul Tagliabue (former NFL Commissioner) stands as arguably the finest union-negotiated agreement of any industry ever, for the simple reason best said by Tagliabue in his statement about Upshaw's death: "[Upshaw] never lost sight of the interests of the game and the big picture."
Unlike other unions, the NFLPA under Upshaw knew that if they killed the league, they get nothing. So the union negotiated for a percentage of income, as opposed to the specific salary demands many unions get. In effect, as the NFL prospered, the players prospered. This can be seen in the NFL's salary cap, which has increased every year of the current CBA, as the NFL's income has increased every year.
If all union leaders were as smart as Upshaw, I would happily support unions in more industries. Unfortunately, I doubt the success of the NFLPA will be remembered by other unions. I just hope the NFLPA remembers it's own success under Upshaw.