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The Lie That The NFL Won’t Tell Current Or New Players About On Their Future
NOTE: The current controversy between the NFL Players Association and some of its veteran members has been an on-going story that BASN has chronicled over the last year. This story written by Greg Moore first appeared on August 18, 2006 and the feelings represented in the piece are still echoed today by many NFLPA veterans.SAN ANTONIO — Imagine working for a company for several years, build up that company’s own financial portfolio, take part in its foundational growth through some lean times, even be applauded and given great accolades as a pioneer for that company only to find out that the very company you helped grow has lied to you for all those years.
You find out that so-called pension plan that will help you live comfortably for years to come is worthless by the cost of living standards of today. The retirement fund that allowed you to “dip” in early, penalized you for doing so and literally has you on the bread line.
And to make matters worse, the current employees of the company you helped build, the very ones who are making great salaries now because of your hard work, don’t care about you or any of your co-workers because you are not a part of the family anymore.
Finally to add insult to your financial injury, the current “union” chief at the company was a co-worker of yours back in the day and he has literally turned his back on you and his former co-workers saying that it’s his job to help the current workforce; not to strengthen a workforce long since aged. Would you want to work for a company like that?
Well for many former NFL and AFL players of long ago, this horrific example is actually their current nightmare. Former players are simply not being taken care of and what’s worse is that many of these players are not just some player who was lucky in his day to make a roster and have a “cup of coffee” in the show; we are talking Hall of Fame players who are in a rather precarious elite group of individuals.
We are talking about former AFL stars that helped shape that league and then go on to be successful in the NFL as well. We are talking about even players of at least the last fifteen years who are now understanding that a union that they once loved is so heartless, so callous in its thinking, that many of these former players are totally embarrassed how guys before them are even treated.
It’s the dirty little “white lie” that the NFL League doesn’t want to discuss openly. To them, everything is fine for these former players. For the players’ union president, Troy Vincent, he acts like it doesn’t exist. For Gene Upshaw, it’s not his problem; or at least that’s the portrayal that is bestowed upon John Q. Public.Former All Pro defensive lineman and current Fox Sports analyst Howie Long said in a recent interview for the Charlotte Observer, “When I went to the Hall of Fame in 2000 and was inducted, it was a travesty the kind of carnage I saw out of these guys who were in their 50s and 60s, who had defined and in many ways laid the foundation for the NFL being what it is today.”
Joe Montana was quoted as saying, “The NFL is the worst represented league, on the players’ side, in pro sports”.
These are former players that many of us can recognize off the bat. Yet for this story, I contacted several former players via e-mail correspondence and many of them were kind enough to send back interview questionnaires that depicted their plight in a small, compact form.
While the sampling may not be as in depth as I could get it, the former players who did send in answers were very clear about one thing; the union doesn’t care about former players. Some players were Hall of Famers who are receiving paltry sums from the league’s so-called pension plan that was revamped back in 1993.
“I am one of the 325 guys who receive less than $150.00 per month, I receive a below poverty level pension of $126.00 per month”, former Green Bay Packer great Herb Adderley confided to me via his questionnaire on what he got as far as a pension from the league.
Adderley isn’t just some average football player like many want to make these players out. His accomplishments are many. The highlights of his career are as follows: Made the most big plays for the Packer defense during the Glory Days 1961-69 = 5 Championships – 1961- 62 – 65 – 66 – 67 including Super Bowl 1 & 2. Returning 3 interceptions for TD`s in 1965 = NFL record.
The first d-back to return seven interceptions for TDs, set the record in 1969 with a pick and return for 80 yds against the Atlanta Falcons. The 7 TDs are still a Packer record and it means that I scored more points on defense than anyone in Packer history.  The first player to score on defense in Super Bowl history, 60 yds against the Raiders in Super Bowl II.
The first player to start for two different teams in the Super Bowl, and receive rings from two teams, the Packers in I & II and the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. Played on six NFL Championship teams, five with the Packers and one with the Cowboys  Played in four of the first six Super Bowls.
“The current union has forgotten about the 325 guys who are receiving less than $150.00 per month. We are not included in any of the Collective Bargaining Agreements for increases that the other retired guys receive”, Adderley adds in his statements.
He’s not alone. Former AFL linebacker Stewart “Smokey” Stover sent in his questionnaire sheet as well and it seemed that some of the same problems that Adderley had, were Smokey’s concern as well. When asked about whether the current union was taking care of the former players, Smokey’s response was,”The older players with injuries and problems are not being looked after by the union”.
Questionnaire after questionnaire from the sampling continues to confirm what Long and Montana have already said in the Observer story; the current union doesn’t give a rat’s ass about those who came before them and put the league on the map. As I read each questionnaire that came across my e-mail, some of them were so heart wrenching that it really made me wonder whether or not Gene Upshaw, the executive director of players’ union, truly understands just what kind of dire straits many of these former players are in.
Yet the words that come back and haunt Upshaw isn’t anything he may say here or to any other media forum. It’s the words that he has uttered to the press back in January and it is those same words that have many of these former players irate with their once reverenced colleague of an age gone by: “The bottom line is I don’t work for them. They don’t hire me and they can’t fire me. They can complain about me all day long. They can have their opinion. But the active players have the vote. That’s who pays my salary”.
Despite what has now become a glamorous lifestyle portrayed by today’s media, if you talk to many of these former players, they will tell you that their football salary was not enough to sustain their households. The median for a player who was playing in the 1960s, a salary of $15,000 wasn’t uncommon.
Up until the mid 1970s, salary ranges of $20,000 to about maybe $60,000 were usually the norm for these players. Reports from various news entities say that maybe thirty years ago the average salary was $30,000. Yet for many of these players, it still took a second job for many of these players to survive and run their households.
“Back in the day, most of us had to work during the off-season to make ends meet”, Adderley told me in an e-mail for this article.
There are many instances of professional athletes of all major sports having had to take on the second job during the off-season to make ends meet. The luscious lifestyle that so many of us are accustomed to seeing today is a result the of hard work and dedication that players like Adderley and others put forth together through their years of making the NFL what it is today.
It is the simple fact that for many of these players, playing in the NFL was a labor of love, not necessity that had them playing the game. So it is very disingenuous for someone in Upshaw’s position to simply blow them off when serious concerns are being addressed in regards to financial compensation for “a job well done”..
THE REALITY IS PAIN AND HARDSHIP FOR THESE PLAYERS Adderley is among several players who are actually quite fortunate to have found a second career in which his below poverty pension plan payment is almost a non-factor for him. And while these players may be fortunate to have financial stability that allows them to live the way they want after their playing days, they are still a part of a large segment of players who believe that the league has let them down and many of those players are on medical disability and have no means of relief from the very league they gave their bodies for.
A transcript provided by ESPN highlights some of the many problems that these guys are facing and demonstrates how little the public actually knows about what kinds of medical problems many of these former players are facing today.
“This is so painful, this thing here; my wrist, my neck, my back”, Mercury Morris told “Outside the Lines”, ESPN’s daily sports magazine show. Morris broke his neck in 1973.
The weekly sports news program did an expose on this topic that aired January 26th of this year. Other players who have played for great teams or have had spectacular careers are in a similar situation. Dan Johnson, who caught the only Super Bowl pass that Dan Marino ever threw, had his career end in 1988 with a spinal fusion.
“This is my life”, Johnson told the sports program. “Every day I have to take, (points to his medications).”
Now Johnson survives on 360 pills a month to kill the pain that he suffers from his playing days and his injury.
Other former players have told of similar issues that they re facing and they are speaking out about how the union has systematically forgotten about them and their plight. For example, for former players like Joe Perry, 78, even a few extra dollars would help. Perry, who was the first running back in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, said his monthly pension payment is $1,640 and that he and wife Donna need much of it to pay for health insurance.
“We pay something like $300 to $350 a month just for pills,” Donna Perry said.
Perry was one of the pre-1959 players whose pension benefits increased dramatically over the past 13 years. However, he’s not impressed.
“They do absolutely zero as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Others, like Smokey Stover, it’s about looking back at your history and past; not just protecting your future.
“The older players with injuries and problems are not being looked after by the union”, Stover said. “It’s hard for me to tell if the union cares about us. In all I’m reading, they have failed the former players. They are concentrating on the active group”.
Upshaw and others believe that the league and the union are doing a tremendous job for these former players but the reality is that these players do not have a solid foundation of a pension that grows according to the economy of the league or the cost of living range that is not present in today’s times.
Typically you would want your pension plan to be adequate enough to handle such economic fluxes but for these players, especially the 325 members who are getting the sub par payments, trying to find a pension fund that current players can contribute into to help these former players is very feasible; especially since many believe the current fund is under funded.
In a letter sent to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Upshaw, former AFL player and now lawyer Ron Mix listed the problems that he felt needed to be addressed in a November 2nd letter. In that letter, Mix contended that players who took the early retirement election (Social Security Election) should not be penalized because of:
The Social Security Election was an ill-advised provision that defeated the concept of what a pension plan is to achieve: security in retirement; 2) The transition from football to a post-career is often difficult; 3) Many, if not most, of the Group made their election because of financial hardships that come with divorce, illness (chronic illness of my wife), need for extra money to meet obligations (Herb Adderley: college education for children), job loss, and mistake (my Charger teammate, Paul Lowe, thought that his pension would be reduced by $50.00, not become $50.00); and 4) The past pension increases were designed to improve the retirement income of all retired players; yet, the members of the Group were left behind.
Many players like Adderley understand what they did in taking the election, but believe that had they not, then things would have been different.
“If I hadn’t elected the early retirement”, Adderley says, “I wouldn’t been able to put my daughter thru undergraduate school at Spellman College and Howard University Dental School”.
DECENT MEDICAL AT THE FOUNDATION OF THEIR COMPLAINTS The pension problem that this group of men is facing isn’t any different than what Congress is looking at right now. There are some serious financial, medical, and ethical issues that should be looked at when it comes to what these former NFL/AFL players are facing with their retirements.
The fact that current union chief has no regard for the plight that his former playing colleagues are facing today should serve as a testament as to how the entire league feels about these players. Despite a better retirement system that pays retirees fairly for their service, many former NFL players believe that if the league had a medical plan that covered them once they left; things could be better for many of them.
“I’m receiving an early pension from my playing days”, former NFL player Earl Edwards said. “Like the others it helped me with my family needs. I am 60 yrs. Old and I will probably have to work for the rest of my life”.
Edwards’ situation rings home to Americans who are facing a similar plight when it comes to his health care issues; something that millions of Americans hope would be covered under their retirement plans.
“I’m in better shape than most of my friends, although I have diabetes. Thanks to my wife’s Insurance plan at work we manage as a family decently”, Edwards says.
What these former football stars need is a voice larger than the one that is telling them no. Players that the public respects in their playing days need to now come forth and help this group pick up the mantle and fight for something that is as basic as being able to vote in a local election. Players like Jim Brown, who have the public’s ear, can join forces with Adderley, Stover, Edwards and others as national attention seriously needs to be brought on this subject matter.
These former players should be joined by players like Howie Long, Joe Montana and others and they should take this fight to Washington, D.C. This is indeed a fight that needs to be heard on Capitol Hill and there should be Congressional hearings on this matter and some type of investigation opened as to how a league that is making billions of dollars has the temerity to overlook past players and have employed a system of yes-men and women who would rather side with the league, the union and any entity that would systematically hamper retired players from having a decent living or having a better retirement than what they currently have.
Very few insurance companies are willing to provide halfway decent coverage for former athletes who have had their careers ended by an “on the job” injury. It is because football is so brutal; many of the players are left with medical conditions that may not have come from playing the game.
There is a almost a unified sentiment from this group of players interviewed here and in many other stories that the current players and league officials simply do not care about what has happened to these players. The fact that current players simply “gloss” over these retired players’ issues remains a bone of contention as to whether the league truly cares about its past heroes of the gridiron.
Edwards summed up the feelings for many the retired players’ feelings towards the league, the current union and their plight.
“The players association should have a medical plan to take care of us forever because we participated in a collision sport. They act as though they are doing us a favor whenever conversations regarding our physical needs come up. I feel that it’s their duty to make sure that we at least have as much comfort in our lives as they are receiving. We can’t ask for equal financial compensation but we should be entitled to good health benefits”.
It’s hard to imagine that 325 former NFL players would be in a situation that forces them to rely on a second or third income, or rely on health benefits of a spouse. For some of these players, including Hall of Famers, retirement hasn’t been easy. Maybe what this story and others will do is help these players get the word out that their former employer has not been living up to the promises that it told these individuals.
Maybe what this story will do is get current and future players to realize that anything can happen and that one day this could be them; despite the millions of dollars that they are making.
Only can the truth of this situation change the climate of how the league negotiates with former players. It is time for these players to be compensated at a pay that covers the cost of living for today and provide them with an income that is above the poverty line that this plan is currently set at.
These players gave their lives for the NFL and all they want is fair compensation. That is something that every American who has retired from a company wants and deserves. Above being a football player, these men were hard working Americans providing for the families. It’s time for the league to recognize that fact and do the right thing by providing a pension plan that is befitting of its former gridiron gladiators.