At the time of his sudden passing in August, Gene Upshaw, 63, had been at the helm of the National Football League Players Association for more than 25 years. But his advocacy of players’ rights was cemented much earlier, during his 16-year career as an offensive guard with the Oakland Raiders. Upshaw was a team captain who also served as an NFLPA player representative and officer for 13 years. As executive director of the NFLPA, he blazed a trail for former players and African-Americans to hold positions of power in the sports industry.
In the past 15 years, the value of the sports industry has grown to more than $200 billion. Here’s a list of African-Americans who are in power positions:
Ray Anderson, executive vice president Football Operations
National Football League
Anderson was named senior vice president of football operations for the NFL in 2006. He is a former attorney with Kilpatrick & Cody in Atlanta and founder of AR Sports, a sports agency that specialized in NFL players and coaches. Prior to joining the NFL front office, he was executive vice president and chief administrative assistant with the Atlanta Falcons.
Joe Dumars, president
A 14-year National Basketball Association star, Dumars moved into the Pistons’ front office as vice president of player personnel during the 1999 – 2000 season. Since then, the Pistons have won the NBA championship (2004), more than 50 games in seven consecutive seasons and six Central Division titles in seven years.
Mike Garrett, athletic director
University of Southern California
Garret has been athletic director at USC since 1993. With 18 national titles secured during his tenure, fundraising soared to $75 million in 2006 and 2007, with corporate sponsorship, merchandising and licensing reaching $10 million. Garret was the seventh African-American to become athletic director of a Division I-A institution.
Harold Henderson, executive vice
president, Player Programs
National Football League
Henderson oversees player benefits, including retirement plans, pension and disability for retired players. He joined the league in 1991 and guided the creation of NFL Player Programs, designed to provide financial assistance, post-football career opportunities and education to players.
Bill Hunter, executive director
NBA Players Association
Led by Hunter since 1996, the association worked through a labor negotiations agreement that resulted in a lockout at the start of the 1998 – 1999 season. Hunter oversaw the adoption of regulations for on- and off-court player behavior and spearheaded the creation of the player’s association for the Women’s National Basketball Association.
Jonathan Mariner, chief financial officer/executive vice president
Major League Baseball
Prior to joining MLB, Mariner worked as CFO for the Florida Marlins, where he was responsible for day-to-day financial and administrative activities. As president of the Marlins Ballpark Development Corp., he oversaw the development and funding of the then-proposed $400 million baseball-only ballpark in South Florida.
Steve Mills, president
Madison Square Garden Sports
Mills joined MSG in September 1999 after working for almost two decades with the NBA. He started at MSG as executive vice president for Franchise Operations with the Knicks, moved up to president of Sports Team Operations for Madison Square Garden and to his current position in July 2008.
Ozzie Newsome, general manager/
executive vice president
In 2002, Newsome became the first African-American general manager in the National Football League. He was promoted after the Ravens’ Super Bowl win in 2000, where he played an integral role as director of player personnel. Newsome transitioned from the field to the front office as an assignment scout with the Cleveland Browns in 1991.
Jerry Reese, general manager
New York Giants
Reese joined the Giants’ scouting department in 1994 and was later promoted to director of player personnel. He is the third African-American general manager in the NFL after Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore and Rick Smith in Houston. In his first year as Giants general manager, the team won its third Super Bowl.
Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president, Baseball Operations
Major League Baseball
Solomon has been a fixture in the MLB front office since 1991. Promoted to his current position in 2005, he was instrumental in the launch of such MLB initiatives as the MLB Urban Youth Academy at Compton College in California, the Civil Rights Game, and the MLB Urban Invitational, featuring college baseball teams.
Rick Smith, general manager
Smith, 38, is entering his third season as general manager for the Houston Texans. The youngest GM in the NFL, his first job with the league was in 1996 as an assistant defensive back’s coach for the Denver Broncos. In 2008, he received the Tank Younger Award for outstanding work in an NFL front office.