By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

Bryant Gumbel, the smooth and classy broadcaster, is far from simpleminded. He knows what he's doing.

Bryant Gumbel
James Devaney/WireImage
Gumbel wanted to make a spash, and he did.

He's deliberately lacing his end-of-show commentary on HBO's insightful and provocative "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" with incendiary and sometimes simpleminded opinions so the show will create the necessary buzz for the 57-year-old Gumbel to remain "cutting edge."

Good for Gumbel, one of my all-time favorite broadcasters. Bad for Gene Upshaw, the latest victim of Gumbel's occasionally irresponsible razor tongue.

In a cleverly delivered diatribe on the most recent "Real Sports," Gumbel offered some advice to new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about handling the NFL Players Association's executive director:

"Before he cleans out his office, 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."

To his credit, Gumbel stopped short of suggesting that Upshaw's mama wears combat boots. However, Gumbel would've been standing on more solid ground had he resorted to such juvenile dozens playings.

The attack on Upshaw for the lack of "guaranteed" contracts in the NFL is a criticism most often blurted out by loudmouthed fools -- former players turned broadcasters looking to talk tough.

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The Geto Boys wrote a song about it: "Talkin' Loud Ain't Sayin' Nothin'."

The contracts in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are not guaranteed through the collective bargaining agreement. The CBAs in those leagues do not mandate guaranteed contracts.

Digest that for a moment.

The unions did not make guaranteed contracts standard operating procedure in baseball and basketball. Aggressive agents and acquiescent owners did.

And, get this: Despite popular belief, there are a small percentage of player contracts in those sports that are not guaranteed. If the player and the agent don't have the leverage, the deal is not guaranteed.

Upshaw is getting blasted for not doing something that other union heads have also failed to do. Way beyond all of that, he's getting blasted for something that makes absolutely no sense in football. And his stupid critics are ignoring the unprecedented progress NFL players have enjoyed under Upshaw's direction.

You do realize that, with the huge signing and roster bonuses that are becoming commonplace for the league's stars, that the top-tier, in-their-prime players have "guaranteed" contracts for pretty much three to five years? (The max length of an NBA contract is now five years.)

Gene Upshaw
Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
NFL players have made huge strides during Upshaw's tenure.

If the Saints cut Reggie Bush in Year 2, the salary-cap penalties are so punitive that it would be economic suicide for the organization.

You do realize that if the NFL handed out long-term guaranteed contracts to players in their late 20s and early 30s, no sane businessman would have an interest in owning a team? Football is clearly the most violent team sport. Players try to hurt each other on nearly every play. The rosters are huge -- about five times bigger than NBA rosters, and twice as big as baseball rosters. Careers are routinely cut short by injuries.

If Barry Bonds played football, injuries would've forced him into retirement six or seven years ago. Instead, in baseball you can roll him out to left field in a wheelchair, pad him up at the plate and watch him limp around the bases one home run at a time. You can give Barry Bonds a guaranteed contract because he can contribute and sell tickets as long as he can breathe.

If a linebacker pops a running back like Priest Holmes one good time, a non-team doctor can state it's too dangerous for Holmes to continue playing, and an NFL owner could be on the hook to pay Holmes $5 million a year for the next four years.

Football players get injured often. They routinely play with injuries and pain that would sideline most rational people. If all contracts were guaranteed -- keep in mind, there are 53 players on an NFL team and 12 on an NBA team -- it wouldn't make economic sense to own a team.

Contracts have to make sense for both sides -- owners and players.

Do you think NFL owners are idiots? They realize how hard and dangerous it is to play football. They already have grave reservations about giving out huge signing bonuses. Would anyone want to deal with Terrell Owens if he had a guaranteed contract? Would the NFL product suffer if the players had the same leverage as Allen Iverson?

The widespread criticism of Upshaw is ridiculous. He just negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that is "too good" for the players. NFL owners are so dissatisfied with the deal, they're likely to opt out of it two years early. When Upshaw took over the players union 23 years ago, it was on the brink of bankruptcy. It now has a $163 million war chest. The players are guaranteed 59.5 percent of the league's total football revenue. The pension benefits for retired players have escalated enormously. See if you can locate any other retired workers whose benefits have improved even a teeny bit.

Gene Upshaw really doesn't need to be defended. His work really does speak for itself. For the most part, he's attacked by idiots -- current and former players incapable of grasping the big picture.

Let me tell you what happens. A simpleminded NFL superstar (a Pro Bowl defensive lineman) will hang out with the fourth-best player on an NBA team (Jared Jeffries) and wonder why the NBA player is making more money and has more freedom than he does.

"The NFL is the best league and I'm a big star, but this guy makes $6 million a year and has a phat shoe contract. Man, our union needs to cut a better deal. This is bull. Gene don't know what he's doing."

How 'bout going on a diet and learning to shoot the 3, and then you can join the NBA? Seriously, primary care physicians are more important than orthopedic surgeons, but a top-flight orthopedic surgeon will make 10 or 20 times more than a primary care physician. They're both doctors.

You follow?

I'd like to make the same amount of money as John Grisham. We're both writers. I chose this path.

There is one other element to the criticism leveled at Upshaw. He's a nontraditional black leader. He doesn't fit the stereotype. He gets blasted for being too cozy with the commissioner and the owners.

Translation: Gene isn't angry or militant enough.

Gene would get more respect as a leader if he played the Jesse Jackson role and occasionally called NFL owners two-bit bigots.

I applaud Gene for playing the game on a higher level. He's proving that a black man can get things accomplished without name-calling, without making things personal. He's a businessman, an intellectual. He doesn't need to beg or browbeat. He can deal with the NFL's power structure as an equal, which says something good about Gene and about the power structure.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. He can be reached by e-mail at Sound off to Page 2 here.