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Hall of Famer

Posts : 28835
: February 01, 2007, 12:00:44 AM

This could be a Cove article but I think it's related to the Bucs and every other
team. Don't know if fans can do much to help (besides bid on the auction
items) but at least we can become aware of the problem.

I just watched the HBO "Real Sports" report which focused on this issue. Petty sad.
You should have seen Conrad Dobler's knees. Disgusting. And he can't win his disability
case. Mike Ditka mentioned that John Unitas died a bitter man because of this issue.
Read on...

Ditka and the others who are helping really have my respect.

I posted two articles.

* * * * * * * * * *


by Wallace Matthews

Shame of the league

January 31, 2007

When Tiki Barber retired from the NFL at the end of this season, he did more than walk away from his career at the top of his game. He also walked right onto Gene Upshaw's enemies list.

There is simply no other way to describe the behavior of that spineless mockery of a union, the NFL Players Association, or the attitude of its president, also known as Roger Goodell's -- formerly Paul Tagliabue's -- lapdog, toward its former members.

As exposed by HBO's "Real Sports" last week, and illustrated by my colleague Shaun Powell's heartbreaking column about John Mackey yesterday, once a player is done with the NFL, the NFL is done with him.

This week is the NFL equivalent of Mardi Gras, a week of happy horsecrap about the League That Can Do No Wrong.

But a handful of former players, Hall of Famers all, are not swallowing the Kool-Aid the rest of the country seems to be drunk on. While most of the NFL media is being distracted by the temptations of Super Bowl Week, Jerry Kramer, Harry Carson and Mike Ditka, to name a few, will be speaking truth in a hotel conference room a few hours before Upshaw gets his chance to lie about how great everything is.

They have long known that The Shield, as the players refer to it, is a league that eats its young, and the NFLPA is a union that discards its old. And tomorrow, they want the rest of the world to know it.

As Kramer said, "It will not be a pleasant task. But then, it's not pleasant to talk to Bill Forester [a Pro Bowl linebacker on Kramer's Green Bay Packers teams of the mid-60s] and hear that he's suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia and pneumonia, that he needs a feeding tube to survive, and that he can't get any money from the Players Association to help him."

Nor is it pleasant to consider the case of Willie Wood, a Hall of Famer now destitute, living in a nursing home and needing to rely on a trust fund for retired players set up by Ditka, of all people, in order to survive; or to think about a former New England Patriot, whose name is being withheld to preserve his privacy, living on the street, nor to consider the future of Carson, now 53 and suffering from post-concussion syndrome, the result of at least 15 game and practice-related concussions. Will he be the next John Mackey or Andre Waters?

This is the stuff the NFL never wants to talk about, but especially not now, when everyone is paying attention to what is universally regarded as the world's most lucrative and best-run sports league.

Upshaw did not return a call yesterday, but as he told the Charlotte Observer recently, "They don't hire me and they can't fire me. They can complain about me all day long. But the active players have the vote. That's who pays my salary."

Clearly, there's no help there, so after their news conference, the players will stage an auction of items from their personal collections, many of them prized possessions, to raise money for the thousands of players who can't, or won't, go to the union for help.

"These are proud guys, and a lot of them are too embarrassed to ask for help," Carson said. "But for them to even get to the point where they have to beg for assistance, that really -- me off."

Thankfully, Carson does not need the $700 or so a month his NFL pension would pay him if he applied for it. But it enrages him to think of Herb Adderley cashing an NFLPA check for $126.85 a month -- that is not a misprint -- and it really infuriates him when Upshaw crows about increasing all benefits this year by 25 percent.

"Great, now Herb will get $150," Carson said.

For a league that receives $3.1 billion a year for its television rights alone, it is an incredibly chintzy way to do business. Of the 9,000 retired NFL players, only 144 receive disability benefits and the league has never lost a lawsuit brought by a former player seeking help.

"You really do need to be crawling on the floor to qualify for disability benefits," Carson said. "They just deny, deny, deny, and hope that it all goes away."

Kramer said he hopes the auction will raise between $250,000 and $500,000, with all proceeds to be distributed as soon as possible because "we got guys who need help right away."

The NFL is providing nothing but the hotel room, because to deny the retired players a place to speak out would have garnered even worse publicity than what they will say.

But that is where The Shield's commitment ends.

"They told us they had so many requests for help, they didn't know who to help first," Kramer said. "So they decided to help nobody."

For the NFL, it is business as usual. Profits through the roof. Heads in the sand.

* * * * * * * * * *


A steep price to pay
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
January 30, 2007

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

MIAMI – Mike Ditka is spitting fury and frustration, words hitting harder than a South Beach hangover.

He surveys the scene here for Super Bowl XLI, takes one look at the giant billboards, the corporate sponsors, the overflowing hotels and restaurants, the four-figure ticket prices and he doesn't see smiling faces – just old ones.

Like the one of Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler who died broke and sick and had spent time homeless, living in his pickup truck.

Or Willie Wood, a Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer, who played in the first two Super Bowls no less, currently struggling with a mountain of medical bills from myriad surgeries to repair back, neck, spine and hip problems almost all assuredly related to the violence of football.

Or Herb Adderley, another of those old Packers, who is so disgusted at his $126.85 per month pension in the face of all the NFL's profits that he refuses to wear his Super Bowl or Hall of Fame rings anymore.

When you spend your days hearing sad stories from all your old friends who helped make the Super Bowl the extravaganza it is, helped lay the foundation for a league now filled with millionaire players and billionaire owners, you don't have to have Mike Ditka's legendary fire to want to blow up at the owners, at the NFL Players Association, at the current players, at someone or something.

"It's a disgrace," Ditka said, starting to tick off his culprits. "The owners ought to be ashamed of themselves. The owners are financiers, and they are all about making money. They don't care about the history of the game.

"[NFLPA executive director] Gene Upshaw?" Ditka continued. "Come on. You can get somebody off the street to do what he is doing, and you will pay him a whole lot less. You've got [players] today making millions of dollars.

"All we are saying is we got a lot of guys that started this game that have a lot of problems health wise and mental wise. I say help them out. Help them out. Let them die with a little dignity and a little respect."

With that Mike Ditka is about out of breath. But not out of will.

Here is where the issue gets as complicated as it is emotional.

Two things are undeniable. First, many older players (especially pre-early 1980s) are suffering financially, physically and, often, mentally and emotionally. A great deal of that comes from playing the game. Second, the NFL is now awash in cash, a $6 billion industry.

The problem is that the retirement deals cut back in the day were reflective of the fiscal realities of those times. Older players look at today's Super Bowl as a cash cow and argue it wouldn't have been possible without Super Bowl I.

"You see we've got a $4 billion contract, we've got a 59-percent increase in income, franchises are now worth a billion and a half dollars and you're going, 'hey, hey, excuse me, you forgot something back here,'" said Hall of Famer Packer Jerry Kramer, who played in the first two Super Bowls.

"This era is what founded the foundation of the league."

Indeed it is. But, then again, that first Super Bowl in 1967 didn't sell out the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"The pension for the current players is quite good," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday. "And those benefits are a factor of the economics at the time. [For] guys who played years ago, the economics of the league weren't as great. Therefore their benefit package isn't what the benefit package is for the players today."

The NFL currently pays out $61 million in pension, but most of that goes to post-1977 players. The NFLPA recently upped its contributions to older players, but people such as Ditka claim it is woefully insufficient.

And while you'd love to see the NFL just step up and cover every player in need, it deserves at least some nod of respect for bucking every known trend in corporate America – rather than trying to abandon its legacy costs to retirees, it actually is upping its contributions and commitments.

"Every collective bargaining agreement we've negotiated with the players has included improvements in the pension plan for retired players," Aiello said. "Which is unusual in industry for the bargaining unit to go back and improve the benefits."

Of course, it isn't enough. Nor is the NFLPA's weak claim that it can only do so much because it legally represents only current players, not retired ones. Both the NFL and NFLPA could and should do more. Both could and should act as examples of what is right here.

That they defend their current actions says there is a lot of semantics here, a lot of buck passing, just not enough to the old players.

But the real problem here isn't exploding revenue or left-behind senior citizens – we've had that in most major sports. It is the inherent nature of the NFL, too violent, too painful, too destructive for any traditional definition of right and wrong to apply.

"Willie Wood had an operation on his high spinal column, on his high shoulders, on the narrowing of the spinal canal, on his lower back and on his hips," Kramer said of his old teammate.

"You know any one of those [surgeries] could wipe out a modest savings."

You don't have injuries like that playing basketball or baseball. You probably don't have them as a coal miner, or a lumberjack or a jackhammer operator even.

If the NFL were just any old industry – and not our national sporting obsession – it is quite possible the federal government would all but outlaw it for the safety of the workers. The NFL can provide all the helmets, trainers and team doctors it wants, but this still is a game that essentially can ruin anyone who plays it at the highest level.

"Football is a great game until you turn 45," former San Francisco wide receiver Mike Shumann told the San Francisco Chronicle in a story that detailed how at least 20 members of the 1981-82 49ers already cope with serious physical issues.

Which is why this is such an issue for the NFL. Common sense tells you that many players retire from football due to disabling injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives, be it a blown knee or the double-digit concussions. But unlike most industries, players have been unable to prove it in court, and as few as two percent of retired players receive disability from the NFL.

With near-crippling injuries suffered from this massively violent pursuit, they struggle to make ends meet on meager pensions, hit-or-miss health care and limited employment prospects.

But the NFL, as rich as it is, can't afford to have 1,000 players suddenly on disability, sometimes for forty and fifty years. The league, as a business, can't operate if it admits that so many employees who do only what their job requires – tackling, blocking, being tackled, being blocked – wind up disabled.

It is not an understatement that the entire league's existence would be at stake. The federal government would have to pass some kind of legislation protecting it from such claims so it could continue to operate. That's why the NFL vigorously fights disability claims.

Moreover, the post-retirement life of a NFL player is full of non-physical challenges. According to the Kansas City Star, two-thirds of players have "emotional problems" within six months of retirement. And eighty percent of their marriages end within four years – another huge financial drain.

The NFL now works with current players about preparing for life after football, understanding that many players arrive from coddling college programs where there was little actual education and few thoughts spent on anything but playing ball.

"We have programs in place that never existed years and years ago to help prepare players for their transition," Aiello said. "They first hear about it at the rookie symposium and then they go to their teams, and they know about all of the resources that exist to assist them in their life off the field including continuing education, internships, life skill programs."

But that is too late for the older players who often mismanaged parts of their lives. Ones such as Adderley, who was one of 324 former players including 40 Hall of Famers who (foolishly, he admits) took early retirement, which explains his pathetically low pension. Not that it would have been much better. Kramer gets just $358 per month.

But the question remains, should it really be the NFL's job to care for all these players for all these reasons?

That debate is sure to get more contentious and litigious. The former players aren't backing down. There are lawsuits and press conferences and fights to be had. Ditka is just one of the combatants. The battle promises to be long and nasty, high stakes, high emotion.

In the meantime, Ditka and Kramer can't wait. And they won't. Both are fortunate to be in good health and enjoy prosperity from post-playing careers. But they won't forget their old teammates.

"I don't know if it is anyone’s fault particularly," Kramer said. "Some guys took retirement. Some had bad information. A lot of us got [information] indicating we would die at an average of 54. A lot of guys didn't, but a lot of guys got caught in bad decisions financially or medical decisions. The medical thing has gone so through the roof."

Whatever. Nothing can change that now.

"I've got guys in the hospital, guys in homeless shelters, I've got guys who need help in days," Kramer said. "I can't believe the owners and the union won't correct this problem. [But] that's not my concern this week.

This week he is acting. Kramer, Ditka and a host of former players and franchises are holding an online auction to raise emergency money for players in need.

It's called the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund and the memorabilia and experiences are one of a kind. Ditka is auctioning his 1975 NFC championship ring. There are celebrity experiences with Harry Carson, Howie Long and Merlin Olsen. Hand-drawn plays from Vince Lombardi. All kinds of stuff.

The information for the auction and the fund can be found on jerrykramer.com.

And whether you think the NFL and NFLPA should do more, whether Ditka is right or wrong, you can't argue with the need.

The Super Bowl is upon us – a celebration of the game. But not for those whom football chewed up and forgot.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.


Hall of Famer

Posts : 3223
#1 : February 01, 2007, 12:10:10 AM

That is a damn shame!
Shame on you GENE!


Pro Bowler

Posts : 1948
#2 : February 01, 2007, 01:54:47 AM

For an entity that makes billions of dollars in revenue a year, they probably don't even pay off over 10 mil in pensions a year. Thats a shame, shame one the NFLPA and the league for not taking care of its retirees that helped make the game it is today.


Hall of Famer

Posts : 28661
#3 : February 01, 2007, 02:54:09 AM

I agree.   The current players are way overpaid.  the old time players were way underpaid.


Posts : 987
#4 : February 01, 2007, 06:53:02 AM

As a player's union, they should fight for a "Social Security" of sorts... where the current player's salaries get put into a fund to be given to the retirees...


Hall of Famer

Posts : 11481
#5 : February 01, 2007, 07:38:42 AM

The current players are way overpaid.

You think so Java? Seeing that the league takes in $3 billion and the contracts are set up to voided at any moment, I think that players deserve a little more guaranteed money. 

Max Power


Posts : 290
#6 : February 01, 2007, 07:48:55 AM

  Well they aren't overpaid. Their pay is a direct reflection of the leagues profits. The players get about 60% to share among themselves and the owners get the other 40%. The issue with guaranteed money has been brought up among the players before and the players don't seem interested in changing the way the pay system works. They know that if their money was guaranteed the overall size of contracts would shrink dramatically.

   The players seem to be more interested in taking a chance that they may be one of the guys scoring a huge contract with a huge bonus which is as good as any guaranteed money they'll see anyway. Unfortunately the huge dollar size of these mythical contracts is used as a measuring stick around the league and that probably has some appeal to most players whether they see the money or not.


Hall of Famer

Posts : 28835
#7 : February 01, 2007, 11:34:37 AM

The owners and/or players are not obligated to take care of the older players who are in need.
But it's the right thing to do. The top 20 paid players in the league should set an example
and each donate a set amount. That would be a great thing to do. I think, in the end,
when this problem starts to become common knowledge, the players/union and the
league will do something for fear of embarassment. Not that that's a good reason
but if it helps, then it's good.


Pro Bowler

Posts : 1925
#8 : February 01, 2007, 11:47:32 AM

Thats pretty sad.  Back in the 50s and 60s players werent paid these big bucks.  Some players back then usually had to take a 2nd job to pay the bills.  With what the NFL is making today, they can afford to help these guys out that help build the NFL up to what it is today.  Shame on them.

Boid Fink

Hall of Famer
Posts : 53688
#9 : February 01, 2007, 11:48:01 AM

Thanks for the info UFO.  I was slightly aware of this issue, but reading it in more detail is rather disturbing.

Tampa Bay Todd

Hall of Famer

Posts : 9378
#10 : February 01, 2007, 11:55:17 AM

John Jurkovic hosts a radio show in Chicago and was talking about this issue just yesterday. As a former player, he said it's disgraceful how they are treated for medical care and pensions. He said he's OK since he was smart enough to invest and manage his money, but there are plenty of guys who blew through it living the life and now are really struggling. Have to hit the autograph show circuit to pay the bills.


Pro Bowler

Posts : 1795
#11 : February 01, 2007, 11:56:27 AM

If they took 1% of every players contract and 2% from the owners gross and put it in an emergency pension plan for players, this would never be an issue again.  I remember hearing about this problem a few years ago about fallen players.  I think the player had  become homeless.


Hall of Famer

Posts : 8479
#12 : February 01, 2007, 12:04:48 PM

i dont think the millionaires of these days deserve any pension...if you get 30 million and you cant save some youre worthless... now the older fellas that didnt get paid, the league should care just a wee bit more


Second String

Posts : 111
#13 : February 01, 2007, 12:28:57 PM

just playing devil's advocate here but had these guys not played pro football, would they have been paid and benefited from a similar pension plan of the day at a 9 to 5?  and if they only worked a few years, say 10, would that pension have been worth much?

what did these guys do all the years after their playing days to prepare? 

i don't know, saying that some kid that is the benefactor of today's economics that worked his a$$ off to get paid, and alot of these guys come from little to nothing in the first place, and was not even born when these guys were out there playing the game is somehow responsible for their retirement?

i'm not saying a little compassion isn't due, but tying their medical needs to a current player seems hardly fair.  i agree with Krazy - their shouldn't even be pension eligibility once you go over a certain earnings metric.


Hall of Famer

Posts : 11481
#14 : February 01, 2007, 12:47:45 PM

i dont think the millionaires of these days deserve any pension...if you get 30 million and you cant save some youre worthless... now the older fellas that didnt get paid, the league should care just a wee bit more

that's an interesting way to look at it.

I think the league has to take care of players when they sustain life long injuries due to playing the game, it's just good buisness. They take in 3 billion a year, I'm sure some of that could be allocated to an account for these situations.
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