Sports Outside the Beltway

Gumbel Says Upshaw Incompetent, Tagliabue’s Pet

Bryant Gumbel is in hot water with the NFL Network after making some disparaging remarks about outgoing NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and player’s union head Gene Upshaw.

The job status of Bryant Gumbel, scheduled to be the play-by-play broadcaster on the eight late-season games on the NFL’s in-house network, could be the subject of a discussion by NFL officials after Gumbel’s suggestion that Paul Tagliabue show his successor “where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash.” Tagliabue said Monday that incoming commissioner Roger Goodell and Steve Bornstein, who runs the NFL Network, will discuss the remarks after Goodell takes office Sept. 1.

Gumbel addressed his closing remarks on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” last Tuesday to Goodell. “Before he cleans out his office,” Gumbel said. “Have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch.”

Tagliabue strongly disagreed with the tenor of Gumbel’s comments. “I think things that Bryant Gumbel said about Gene Upshaw and the owners are about as uninformed as anything I’ve read or heard in a long, long time, and quite inexcusable because they are subjects about which you can and should be better informed,” Tagliabue said.

Tagliabue was also asked if he thought Gumbel should remain with the network. “Having looked at how other people have had buyer’s remorse when they took positions, I guess they suggest to me that maybe he’s having buyer’s remorse and they call into question his desire to do the job and to do it in a way that we in the NFL would expect it to be done,” the commissioner said.

Gumbel is a superb sports commentator and has earned the right to say what he thinks. I happen to disagree with him on this one, though. It’s true that Upshaw has not wrangled the same degree of salary protection for NFL players as other union heads have done in their sports. At the same time, it’s not coincidental that the NFL is the league that has managed to keep labor peace for years with no interruptions in play while growing into, by far, the biggest sports entity in the world. By not trying to wring out the last nickel, realizing that the players and owners have a symbiotic relationship, Tagliabue and Upshaw have kept the momentum going.

Further, it’s rather difficult to compare a sport with a 52-man roster to ones with 11- and 24-man rosters. It’s just a different animal.

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