The timing of Stover’s comments following a recent conference call coincides with an undercurrent of labor unrest. The union is approaching pivotal negotiations with NFL owners who have expressed displeasure with the amount of revenue players are receiving and are threatening to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in November.
Plus, there has been heavy criticism of Upshaw from a group of retired players that includes former Baltimore Colts defensive back Bruce Laird.
"As you are completely aware of our election process, Gene’s contractual situation and our looming battles against the owners in the coming years, I feel that the board must begin to prepare for a change in leadership immediately," Stover said in an e-mail obtained by ESPN. "I believe we have the proper environment with our teammates and leadership within the board to execute the process of this selection. To be open and transparent is critical for the body to back our possible selection as well as our outside critics.
"I want to make this clear: I have no personal agenda as I would hope everyone else would as well. I only want what is best for the union and our teammates and my intentions are to establish a healthy leadership for years to come. I was on that conference call and I’m not the only rep who listened and felt that it is time for a change."
Stover reportedly objects to Upshaw’s $24 million contract over the next six years, among other issues.
Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae was recently elected as the leader of the active players following an unsuccessful internal movement to elect Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. Former Buffalo Bills and Eagles defensive back Troy Vincent is another contender to succeed Upshaw.
Stover didn’t return a telephone call Tuesday seeking comment, but released a statement through the Ravens’ public relations department.
"I’m going to respect the process of our union leadership, executive committee and players reps," Stover said. "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."
In his e-mail, Stover suggested that the executive committee should launch a national search for a new union leader and compile a list of candidates by training camp.
"Both the old and young players in our locker room have voted us in because they trust our judgment," Stover said. "This is about the future of the organization. Not now, not one or two years from now, but 5, 10, 15 years from now."
Hours after the e-mail leaked out, Mawae made a statement of support for Upshaw on the union’s official Web site.
"Matt Stover’s letter does not reflect the view of the entireexecutive committee or the board of player representatives," Mawae said. "The board is in the process of preparing for the possibility of a work stoppage and understands the importance of having Gene, with his experience and history, lead the direction of the NFLPA.â€
Upshaw issued a sharp response to the challenge from Stover, 40, who is entering his 19th season.
"Matt Stover has no clue," the union chief 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 at me because they think I’ve done too good of a job."
NOTE: The Ravens re-signed exclusive-rights free agent linebacker Robert McCune.