Sayers, Ditka Take Fight To Senate

By Fred Mitchell
Updated: September 16, 2007

CHICAGO — Gale Sayers will join Mike Ditka in Washington on Tuesday to testify in front of the Senate Commerce committee regarding the much-maligned pension/disability benefits for aging NFL pioneers.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also will testify during the proceedings, league spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed Wednesday. Gene Upshaw, head of the players’ union, also is slated to appear.

Sayers and Ditka, both Bears Hall of Famers, are board members of the non-profit Gridiron Greats organization founded by former Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer to help assist needy former players.

“The players from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s made the league the way it is today,” Sayers said Wednesday. “But now, nobody wants to help these people. If it weren’t for those people, there wouldn’t be a league.”

“Many of the young players today don’t know who made the league what it is today. They wouldn’t be making the millions they are now if it weren’t for those pioneers.”

Sayers also thinks more NFL owners should become involved in helping out pioneering players from their respective franchises.

“The money wasn’t that great when we were playing,” said Sayers, who says his first contract with the Bears paid him $25,000 as the fourth pick overall in the 1965 NFL draft. “A lot of people think they all should have turned out like Mike Ditka and me [as successful businessmen]. That didn’t always happen.”

In June, a group of former players testified about their bouts with multiple surgeries, dementia and homelessness, all while trying to fight through the bureaucracy of the NFL and the players’ association.

Goodell and Upshaw later met with nearly a dozen former players to discuss a new joint effort to look into disability pay and health care for retirees. “There’s so much money out there to take care of these guys,” Ditka said after a recent news conference. “I have no idea what goes through people’s minds that they’re reluctan t to take care of these people.”