Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ex-NFL Players go to Washington [J. Mark English]

Michael O'Keeffe of the New York Daily News reports:

The NFL has abandoned the retired players who turned the league into a $6-billion-a-year enterprise, a group of angry former players said yesterday during a congressional hearing on the league's disability and pension plans.

Despite the enormous wealth generated by pro football, the players claimed, the league and the NFL Players Association stonewall players debilitated by brain and spinal injuries suffered during their careers rather than address the health and financial needs that have left many physically broken, depressed, homeless or suicidal....

...Subcommittee chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the hearing was scheduled to examine how the NFL's disability and pension plans serve athletes in what she called "the most brutal major American professional sports league."

"Only 284 former players out of nearly 10,000 currently receive long-term disability benefits," Sanchez said. "That translates to less than 3% of retired players, a very small number for any industry, much less one as physically demanding as professional football. The fundamental question then becomes whether this disability process is fair for retired employees of the NFL. The evidence suggests that the vast majority of former players needing benefits do not receive them."...

...NFL vice president Dennis Curran told the panel that benefits for disabled players have skyrocketed in recent years: Players who are permanently disabled and out of the league less than 15 years receive benefits worth $110,000 a year, he said, up from $9,000 in 1982. Last year, former players received more than $55 million in pensions, Curran said. About $20million in disability payments were paid.

The NFL's 2006 agreement with its union increased pensions 25% for those who played before 1982. It also created the 88 Plan, which pays up to $88,000 a year to players suffering from dementia. Retiree benefits have increased in every collective bargaining agreement since 1993.

Comment -

There's an old saying that "one should pedigree your ancestors". The NFL would not be what it is today without the veterans from its yesteryears. The fact that some of them are struggling to receive the pensions the deserve is a scandal. They must receive all the help that they can get. They built the NFL. They played before the time of increased protections that current players enjoy. The sacrificed their minds and bodies to a sport that they loved. They played before the financial rewards were as great as they are now.

The NFLPA must pedigree its past participants and give them the support they need.

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