A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Pimp & Circumstance
On August 7, Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre was traded to the New York Jets. Upon release of this information in the Big Apple, Favre’s new No. 4 New York Jet jerseys were as abundant as bratwursts on game day at Lambeau Field.
According to area sources, 3200 pieces sold in less than a day — at $80 a pop. A few days earlier, another former Packer, Herb Adderley, received his monthly pension check from the Players’ Union — in the amount of $126.85.
Adderley, a five time Pro Bowl selection, eight time All-Pro selection, three-time Super Bowl winner, member of the National Football League’s All-Decade team of the 1960s, and, in a survey done by The Sporting News ranked at the turn of the century as No. 45 out of the 100 greatest players to ever play the game, made less in his entire illustrious career (1961-1972) than the revenue earned in a few hours over the Internet.
While you digest the probability of this feat meaning progress, think about a man who sees his name in the Ring of Honor at Lambeau Field, but can’t see making it through his future at a level far below the quality of life he should be entitled to.
Bernard Parrish was a contemporary of Adderley’s, playing from 1959 – 1966, winning a world championship with the 1964 Cleveland Browns. “That was a big deal, winning the championship,” said Parrish, over the phone from Washington, D.C. “My winners’ share from that pool was $8,000.”
Parrish, who also garnered two Pro Bowl selections, revealed the game was not the afterthought it seems to be in the modern era. “Winning mattered. If you were on the winning side, you got $1500 a man, the losers got $750.
“In 1960, that had some weight. In 2008, that’s about a year’s worth of pension.”
Parrish, now 72 years old, spearheaded a class action suit (along with Adderley) against the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) and their marketing arm, Players, Inc. in 2007; and the gavel is about to drop on adjudication on Monday. The amount being sought for Parrish, Adderley and about 3500 other former pro players is $100 million dollars.
“The NFL makes $7.1 billion dollars a year — almost three million more than Major League Baseball — yet baseball seems to have found a way to take care of the older players with a tad more fairness than us,” said Parrish.
When asked about the largest salary he made as a player, he said, “I was considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league early on — and I made $26,000 a season.”
It has been said by this writer and other BASN writers that the pittance laid out by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick of $750,000 for their corruption of football in the aftermath of the SpyGate scandal didn’t even manifest to a slap on the wrist as far as a deterrent was concerned.
However, when you take into consideration that there are at least five NFL franchises worth over a billion dollars in a depressed market such as this, one hundred million ultimately adds up to what these players probably should have received over the same time period, if you consider major medical, maintenance, long-term disability, and coverage for widows and children.
Anyone who drives a car or owns / rents a home pays some kind of insurance. You also know insurance companies love to take cash in, but hate paying out.
Management vs. Labor
In many ways, several aspects of this suit amount to what is a workers’ compensation issue.
So that we can give this as impartial and objective a look as possible, we’re going to go Sports MCs on this one; this time, our senior member, Mr. Finley “Doc” Pinkard will flex on behalf on what management’s argument could be while DJ Hunnycomb will attempt to lay the lumber down on behalf of the players.
I will further state that Doc is eminently qualified to speak on this, having over 28 years experience in banking and finance.
Doc: Okay — now you have to consider this as one layer off of a very large onion. Players from 50 years back were making less money back then, but so was everyone else. Given what a dollar was worth, you can argue some players were doing a lot better than most back in the day.
If we go back to the “Greatest Game” of the Colts vs. Giants, it was the breakthrough game for pro football’s ascendance as a major spectator sport. After that game, we got games on free television on those black and white sets in the early 1960s.
Owners of teams at this time weren’t adding television revenue from football into the equation, so that didn’t factor into player’s contracts either. Whatever salary was made was determined by drawing power and the overall success of the team.
HC: I’ll grant you that, but you just made my argument on one important aspect of this: COLA — the cost of living allowance. Part of the reality leading up to this suit is due to those players not being given benefits that account for inflationary variables. How does $25,000 spend 50 years later? Unless it was saved and accrued interest, it can’t even come close.
Well, I can say honestly that there was a time when I had bang for my buck as a younger working guy than later in life. I had an apartment just off Central Park West, paying $225 a month in rent. I was earning $12,000 a year and had money in the bank.
At another point as I got older I had more than tripled my salary, but had even less to show for it than when I was younger.
Back when a lot of these cats played, a Cadillac Coupe de Ville cost $4,000; and a Jaguar XKE right out of the showroom was $7,000. You could buy a house for next to nothing; now $250,000 might buy you a raggedy house in New York City…
HC: Which means the inflationary slope has affected these guys, too!
Doc: But you have to also ask them what did they do with their money? How did they spend it or invest it, if at all?
HC: Which bumps us back to the insurance thing; there is nothing crueler than being subjected to hospital tests that you know were connected to your playing days, only to have a team physician or your own doctor tell you they can’t help you because your insurance doesn’t cover the disability.
Doc:Yeah — but you need to remember medical care has jumped light speed over what was done 50 years ago. You couldn’t ‘scope a knee; if you got cut at the knee, you were lucky if you ended up walking with a cane. Cat scans, MRIs, “Tommy John” surgery, hell, any kind of surgery.
No one could attribute what other dangers there were with soft tissue damage; and the connection with concussions weren’t even a major cause for discussion until the 1990s.
What the real cruelty is if say an Earl Campbell played now, his career probably would last but two or three years, given his running style. With the size, strength, added bulk whether chemically or naturally of modern players, Campbell today running the way he did would make him Christian Okoye; and he wouldn’t have put in enough time to qualify for a pension.
span style=”font-weight: bold;”>HC:Perhaps — but he would have a serious legal leg to stand on in a lot of video evidence attesting to his line of work; there would be no way any club could weasel out of their medical commitment to a guy who attracted collisions like Magneto manipulated metal objects.
You look at Campbell’s battered body and he’s just one clear example. What about all the others whose problems weren’t immediately evident? Do they get penalized because of the lack of medical knowledge?
If someone like a Brent Boyd, Conrad Dobler or Carl Eller had migraines and severe headaches years after their playing careers were done and nothing in their family medical history would indicate otherwise, the only way they could have acquired this condition would be from their previous vocation of playing a collision sport like football.
So now we’ve caught up medically and everyone knows what they might have, but they still can’t get help because they’re getting screwed by management.
Doc: Hey, my brother — that’s how it goes. Unless I have proof, as management, my job is to keep operating costs down. That’s why I would want this to come down to arbitration; whatever amount settled on would be a more thought out plan than anything labor could offer.
HC: I don’t think so. Arbitration would work for you, but not necessarily for the rank and file. There was a reason why unions were fought against, especially after Brother Parrish tried to form one among the players soon after the AFL-NFL merger.
These cats weren’t puppets, they knew playing ball was a job; and a job that came with great perks but also should have benefits like most workers did. Glamorizing these cats with sound bites and celluloid from the halcyon days is not paying their rent – or medication, or health care. I mean if baseball is trying to take care of their people, why not football?
Doc: That’s a whole ‘nother thing, Mike. Look — what’s the worst injury you can get in baseball? Someone throws at your head. How many people have died in baseball from injuries on the field?
So compare that with football, a collision sport. Different priorities from an insurance standpoint — different costs, too; as in a lot cheaper.
A doctor could argue injuries sustained from a post-football career could be from wear and tear on the body. On an individual case-by-case basis, the players might win some; but I bet you they’d lose a lot more.
HC: I can see where it would be easier to care for baseball players in that regard; but a user-pay system as health insurance for football players is like having no insurance at all.
If you are having annual checkups and everything’s all good, no problem; it will even pick up minor shit like Tony Romo’s owwie on his pinky;
Doc:(laughs) Don’t get me started on that boy cryin’ like a bitch about his pinkie!
HC: (laughing) But this is no joke — when the situation calls for potential long term disability, these jokers look to find a way out of their agreement; you know this! You were in the business…
Doc: Well, the point of our discussion was to give management’s take on it, right? I’m not saying your argument isn’t valid; in the final analysis, it’s going to be about determining a proper adjustment rate for a pro-rated cost of living allowance; and possibly, restructuring of the pensions of the players.
One thing of which we both agree — no matter what is said, this is truth; these early players — the old-school cats — they built this game and allowed these young knuckleheads making all this money now to prosper.
HC: Damn Skippy! Just like everybody should be breakin’ off something to Curt Flood’s family, these guys need to catch a break and get some of what they helped build.
One area where the old rank and file could get some justice is in the actions of the NFLPA and Players Inc.; using their exclusive representation of NFL players to generate hundreds of millions of dollars through group licensing agreements (GLA’s).
But none of the players who have filed suit have received any of this money; and active players have only received 31%. The NFLPA and Players Inc., which have both been run by the same group of executives, have kept the remaining 69%. Through this lawsuit retired players are seeking their fair share of group licensing revenue.
If a company like Electronic Arts (EA Sports) is using likenesses of players who were playing long before permission to use an image became a codicil to a contract, then it will be a tremendous challenge for NFLPA and Players, Inc. to bullshit their way out of that.
The trial is set to begin on Monday, in San Francisco in district court.
NOTE: BASN will keep you posted with interviews from some of the players whose voices will finally be heard during and after the trial’s conclusion.