Accessory to Further

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: April 22, 2009

“An NFL player who played 10 years in the league gets a pension of $2,500 a month. Yet in Major League Baseball, that same player over a similar period receives $10,000 a month (in spite of the fact pro football makes more money). We didn’t know we were going to live this long – everyone told us we would all be dead by age 55, and these guys that are out here, — they’re hurting. And rather than address it, the NFLPA does things to defame and further diminish these men…”

- — Jane Arnett, wife of former NFL player “Jaguar Jon” Arnett, co- founder of the Retired Professional Athletes Association (RPAA), an advocacy group for ex-players.

P NFL Draft

PHILADELPHIA — In a few days and hours from now, a handful of young men will have their names called in front of the grand stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City; and an audience of millions of cable and satellite television viewers will see approximately 60 or so of these cats become millionaires — literally overnight.

The National Football League presents this transformation every year in an orchestrated production called the NFL Draft, replete with pomp and fanfare as the next wave of gridiron gladiators are put out in public display before the masses.

It wasn’t that long ago where there were no bells and whistles, or continuous coverage or fantasy geeks to masturbate on statistics and create a cottage industry based on…potential.

Jane Arnett is someone who also believes in potential. As co-founder of the Retired Professional Athletes Association (RPAA), her goal is to help bring back dignity to those who labored for thousands so a few could make billions. “You know, we’re seeing an event – and that’s what it’s become, an event,” says Arnett.

“The NFL Draft will call these young men and change their lives with relative ease; but they are so difficult in allowing some of the same men whose names were called long ago to reacquire their sense of self and bring quality of life back to their spirits.”

As with these new millionaires, many of the retired heroes who are directly responsible for the Draft becoming Fat City for these kids came from the same talent pool; from schools like Penn State & Michigan; universities like Washington and Southern California; small schools like Occidental & Kutztown State; and historically Black colleges & universities like Grambling, Morgan State, and Florida A&M.

From the meager bonus dollars that may have bought a car or put down a payment on a house in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, the size of the contract and bonus money awarded to the first selection in this year’s 2009 NFL Draft will exceed the $28.1 million awarded to these same retired players, who won the amount in a class action suit – against their own union last year.

Apparently these words – “class action suit” are significantly diluted and remade as abomination in the aftermath of the ruling; there has been anything but class shown on the part of NFLPA/Players, Inc. counsel in paying out the cash; their stalling actions and vindictive attempts at appeal smack more of greedy family members waiting for an old relative to die so they can do whatever suits their own selfish interests with his remains, rather than have that uncle or grandfather live out the rest of his days with dignity.

And as a Matthew Stafford or a Jason Smith gets to put their “John Henry” on that first contract, the other side of the NFL’s mouth will scream bloody murder about being broke. Broke? How broke can you be when the first team on the clock, the Detroit Lions, who haven’t won a regular season game all last season have spent money on changing their logo?

Never mind the millions they will spend on improving the Lions; this is a team that in spite of going 0-16 all year (how do you make a highlight Yearbook film out of that?) are still worth far more than their Motor City counterparts:

According to numbers by Forbes.com, the Tigers, who did compete in a recent World Series, are worth $239 million; the Pistons, who have recent NBA championships to their credit, are worth $363 million; and the Detroit Red Wings, a perennial winner, a team and organization so dominant in the NHL hierarchy, they have earned the nickname “Hockeytown,” are worth three times less ($303 million) than the 0-16 Lions, who are worth $917 million.

Y’all didn’t hear me – I said $917 million.

And Detroit (24th on the NFL value pool) is not even the lowest ranked team; that distinction belongs to the Minnesota Vikings, who are worth “only” $839 million dollars – in spite of being a playoff team last year!

You call that broke???

And the Lions that helped make that money were men like Bobby Layne, Charlie Sanders, Yale Lary, Patrick Studstill, Lem Barney, Joe Schmidt, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Altie Taylor, Darris McCord, Greg Landry, Mel Farr, Roger Brown, Alex Karras, Billy Sims, and Wayne Walker.

Arnett, wife of Jon Arnett, a 10 year NFL veteran who played with the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears, formed RPAA in large part after seeing the plight of former players whose bodies, once young and strong have betrayed them with the ravages of time and scars on the gridiron.

“All these players are very prideful, and are only asking for what they’ve earned; or at the very least, a chance to again earn some revenue and feel relevant again,” says Arnett. “But whenever we have sought to help out a player with a chance for work or to make a public appearance, the League is insistent in clamping down on what specifics allow for any affiliation – and it stinks.

“As the wife of a former player it is a struggle for many spouses and loved ones to handle the challenges of being with someone who they have to be caretaker, provider and often breadwinner because of circumstances due to ongoing medical, physical and emotional stresses which can tear couples and families apart.”

Given the amount of revenue garnered by advertising on the part of ESPN, the NFL Network and all other League-connected apparatus, the idea of continuing to maintain a hard line approach to men who only want their fair share remains a mystery to the most logical of minds.

Bernie Parrish, former Cleveland Browns defensive back and architect of the successful class action suit, when asked if the delaying tactics on the part of NFLPA were tantamount to them being an accessory to the murder of many players, replied, “I definitely feel that way. I’m in my early seventies, and many of my peers died off much earlier than they should have.

“The average lifespan for players has been hovering in the low – to – mid fifties, and the pain of enduring long – term issues of drug addiction, injuries, lack of proper medical care because of insurance companies not allowing for disability claims brings us back to where we started – the NFLPA’s violating their fiduciary duty – that means they stole our money; but they have ultimately taken more from us then that.

“The mantra has long been, ‘delay, deny, and hope we die’ – and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this is what NFLPA has decided on as their modus operandi for showing their thanks to the men who built this League,” Parrish said.

The actions and inactions that have brought these factions to this point seem to have clearly defined the roles of the principals:

“Heroes & Villians”

Lyrics by Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks, performed by the Beach Boys

I’ve been in this town so long that back in the city I’ve been taken for lost and gone And unknown for a long long time Fell in love years ago With an innocent girl From the Spanish and Indian home Home of the heroes and villains Once at night Catillian squared the fight And she was right in the rain of the bullets that eventually brought her down But she’s still dancing in the night Unafraid of what a dude’ll do in a town full of heroes and villains Heroes and Villains; just see what you’ve done Heroes and Villains; just see what you’ve done Stand or fall I know there Shall be peace in the valley And its all an affair Of my life with the heroes and villains My children were raised You know they suddenly rise They started slow long ago Head to toe healthy, wealthy and wise I’ve been in this town so long So long to the city I’m fit with the stuff To ride in the rough And sunny down snuff I’m alright By the heroes and Heroes and Villains Just see what you’ve done Heroes and Villains Just see what you’ve done.