Thursday, February 01, 2007

State of the NFL: Forgotten Players [J. Mark English]

Tomorrow the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, will give his first State of the National Football League address. Mr. Goodell can use this opportunity to reverse the trend that the NFL Union has traveled towards, of turning their backs on former players.

Wallace Matthews of Newsday writes:

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...

....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....

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.

I sure hope that the NFLPA looks to correct this problem without delay. Matthews concludes:

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.

The league should be embarrassed. Players such as Johnny Unitas, and Earl Campbell are not able to leave there homes because of disabilities, and the league will not help them. Every millionaire in the league owes their success to what the great players of the past did for them.

Remember this while you watch the glitz and the glamor of the Super Bowl, and think of the players that played during a time when they wore gear that was likely to prevent major damage for big time hits. Remember those who came before, and sacrificed limbs to make the NFL, and the Super Bowl, a marketing dream.

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