Article: Where is the love? (retired players -- long)

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by Angus, Jun 10, 2007.

  1. Angus

    Angus Active Member

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    Where is the love?

    Retired players looking for help after building NFL juggernaut


    Sunday, June 10th 2007, 9:43 AM

    Harry Carson had not played a game in nearly two decades when he stood at the podium at his Hall of Fame induction in Canton last summer and displayed the leadership skills that made him one of the all-time great Giants.

    He used the powerful forum to bring the plight of the retired player from whispers into the public consciousness. He pleaded for the league and the union not to forget retired players in need, not to leave behind those who had helped construct the foundation of what is now a $7 billion-a-year industry.

    "If we made the league what it is, you have to take better care of your own," Carson said that day.

    He wasn't referring to the players who had become CEOs or real estate moguls or who are now head coaches making $5 million per year. He meant the players who have run out of money because their pensions are inadequate, the ones who are disabled with no financial relief because of rejected applications, the ones who struggle to pay medical bills for physical ailments that didn't need attention until 25 years after they stopped playing what is perhaps the most brutal game in professional sports.

    In the 10 months since Carson's speech, NFL player pensions and disability payments have become hot-button issues. Carson has been invited to testify at a Congressional hearing on June 26 that will deal with the disability payment process.

    Gene Upshaw, a Hall of Famer and the executive director of the NFLPA, is the No. 1 target of the former players. Two weeks ago, Carson told the Daily News that he believes Upshaw is "irrelevant." Carson instead met with commissioner Roger Goodell and has decided to deal with him on the retired players' issues.

    "I told Roger there is a dark cloud and it's not going to go away," Carson says.

    Asked last week if Upshaw should be fired, Carson told the Daily News, "Personally, yeah. Let's look at it like this. He's been doing a great job for the current players. From that standpoint, no, he shouldn't be replaced. If you're talking about the retired players, then hell yeah."

    Because so many of the retired players believe Upshaw only cares about today's players and isn't doing enough for the 9,000 retired players, a movement has developed - led by former Colts and Chargers safety Bruce Laird - for the Retired Players Association to defect from the NFLPA umbrella. "We are not represented," Laird says. "With all the millionaires and smart businessmen we have, with a tremendous group of intelligent players out there in the business world, we want to represent ourselves."

    Upshaw has not taken the criticism well. After the Charlotte Observer last year quoted several Hall of Famers who were critical of the way retired players are treated, Upshaw fired back in the Observer: "The bottom line is I don't work for them. They don't hire me and they can't fire me. They can complain about me all day long. They can have their opinion. But the active players have the vote. That's who pays my salary."

    Upshaw claims his comments were taken out of context and that he was referring only to Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure, who said the goal of every former player should be to "get rid of Upshaw." Then, in a Philadelphia Daily News story two weeks ago, Upshaw lowered the argument to locker room trash-talk. "A guy like DeLamielleure says the things he said about me; you think I'm going to invite him to dinner? No. I'm going to break his…damn neck."

    DeLamielleure said he took the threat seriously. "Obviously, it was very ill-advised," Laird says.

    Says Carson, who has been a success in many post-career enterprises, including sports consulting, Upshaw received an icy reception when he spoke at the Hall of Fame luncheon the day before the induction ceremony last summer. "Most of the people tuned him out," Carson says.

    Upshaw notes that Carson has not called him to voice suggestions or complaints, which Carson acknowledges. Upshaw adds, "The history of what I have done for retired players - no one has done what I have. The record is there. I have been the only one fighting for retired players since I took this job. I created the retired players department in 1983."

    Upshaw can claim he has done the most, says former Packers guard Jerry Kramer, because he's been the only one at the negotiating table for 25 years. Kramer, who played 11 years in the NFL, has done well since retiring after the 1968 season, and starting Gridiron Greats, an organization that raises money through auctions to help retired players. But Kramer thinks that Upshaw could do more and believes the union chief is a little too concerned with money and power.

    "Gene is in a very well-paid position. Just like young players who sign their first contract and have a ton of money and a new Bentley, there is a certain intoxication from money and fame," Kramer says. "Gene may be so enamored of his position and infatuated with himself, he just can't see anything else or think of anybody else but him."

    This year, $61 million will be paid to retired players in pension and disability, including the recently created "88 Plan" to assist players with dementia. The NFLPA last year paid out $1.5 million through its Players Assistance Trust to retired players.

    "We could be doing more, but I think we are headed in the right direction," Giants co-owner John Mara says. "The owners are certainly much more aware of the situation than they were five years ago."

    In every collective bargaining agreement since 1993, improvements have been made to the retired players' pension. In the most recent CBA, which was negotiated last year, a 25% pension increase was given to players who played before 1982 and 10% to those after 1982. Goodell, who along with Upshaw helped form an alliance that will seek reasonable-cost health care for former players, last week defended him. Still, many retired players, Carson says, want to oust Upshaw. "They are just that bitter. Just that hostile," Carson says. "They are angry with Gene. I told Roger we need to call a timeout, get all the parties to the table and do what is best for everyone involved."

    * * *
    Dick Lynch, a Giants cornerback from 1959-66 and now an analyst on the team's radio broadcasts, is sitting on the patio of his Douglaston home overlooking Little Neck Bay. The Giants of his era were a family and he's worried about them - his close friend Alex Webster in particular.

    "(The league and the union) can spend some of the billions they are making to help these fellas," Lynch says.

    Lynch has done well in his post-playing career and was fortunate to have health insurance through his broadcasting work. Until 1993, players had to pay for their own health and dental insurance when their careers were over. Now, the players' benefits extend for five years after retirement.

    "I think players should have lifelong health care," Carson says. "Five years after you leave football, you still feel relatively fine. When you get down the road, your body starts to break down."

    Lynch knows for sure that many of the physical problems players experience don't happen within five years. "I had both my hips replaced when I was 60," he says. "I got the crap kicked out of me coming up stopping those blocks for those sweeps the Packers used to run all the time."

    Should the obligation extend if the player is suffering from a health issue that is not football related? Carson says the answer is yes. "If it is going to impact his income to create a negative situation for him, then I'm for players having universal health care from the league, Players Association or all who are involved," he says.

    Webster, who lives in Hobe Sound in south Florida, was a running back who played for the Giants from 1955-64 and was their head coach from 1969-73. He is in remission from lung cancer, suffers from emphysema, has a big oxygen tank in his house, a portable one he takes with him, and gets around with a cane and walker. His wife Louise is going blind. He has an HMO for his medical needs. "You don't get the doctors you want," he says. "We can't afford to have a health plan."

    He is 76 years old and his wife says their living expenses soak up just about all of his NFL pension, which has increased to $2,900 per month, and an annuity that is at $1,800 per month and decreasing. "What I did save, what little I'm getting from Social Security, what the league sends me, I'm just getting by on," Webster says. "I don't know what is going to happen when the few bucks I have run out."

    He applied for aid from the Dire Needs Fund run by the NFL Alumni Association last year, but says he was turned down. The board is comprised mainly of former players. "They said the money I had coming in was too much. There are a lot of guys worse than me," he says. "I finished playing back in the '60s. My last salary was about 20 grand. I finished coaching in the '70s and the most I made was $60,000." Sources say he applied for reimbursement for household expenses, but because his income was over $50,000 in 2006, he was not eligible. His case is still under review.

    He worked for several corporations after football, but says he was let go before qualifying for a pension. Webster says he has not called the Giants for assistance. "I wouldn't call them," he says. "Well (Mara) is gone. Young John is running the business now. I hate to be obligated or make anybody feel obligated."

    Webster was able to attend the 50-year reunion of the Giants' 1956 championship team last year. "We will certainly reach out to him," Mara says. "He's more than a former player. He's been a good family friend for many years. I've known him for almost my entire life."

    Webster is a proud man, but wonders why the NFL can't do more. "Everything I hear from the old-timers is the NFL has got so much money in that damn savings, what the hell are they saving it for?" he says. "I'm 76 years old, I put in my dues, I'm getting a few bucks back with my pension, but they could help out a lot of people."

    Webster is fortunate he waited until he was 62 to start drawing his pension. Kramer said he began taking his pension at 45 because of reports that players may not live past 54. As a result, his pension is just $454 per month.

    * * *
    The difficulty players have in getting approved for disability is a focus of the Congressional hearing. "You have to jump through so many hoops," Carson says.

    The NFL says 284 former players are receiving disability payments this year totally $19 million, including some that receive as much as $224,000 annually. Laird says Johnny Unitas, who died in 2002, was turned down for disability despite nerve damage in his arm. It has been reported that former lineman Conrad Dobler has been turned down several times despite doctors saying he is 90% disabled. "Guys felt that if Johnny could not get help, nobody would get help," Kramer says.

    Carson does not carry health insurance because of the cost. He pays for health care out of his own pocket. Two years after his career ended in 1988, he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. In the late '90s, he applied to the NFL for disability payments. He says a doctor referred by the league examined him for 15 minutes and a couple of weeks later, his claim was denied.

    He says he suffered 15-18 concussions in his career - and he's aware of former players who suffered dementia and the possible connection to head injuries.

    "When I look at those guys, in a way I see myself and my future," he says. "When I'm 68 or 70, will I have the shakes? Will I have dementia? Will I know faces? I think about that. I can't put that out of my mind. Back then, I didn't know what I was getting myself into."

    Kramer's Gridiron Greats held an auction during Super Bowl week in Miami and Carson auctioned himself off for a round of golf that went for thousands to a bidder from the Los Angeles area with the money going to retired players in need. They got together in Thousand Oaks, Calif., three weeks ago to play.

    "We can find creative ways to take care of ourselves," Carson says. "If we buy some retirement homes in Arizona and Florida so these guys dealing with dementia and Alzheimer's can go live their lives in dignity, then we are going to do it."

    So far, many players feel they may have to. Even an owner as beloved by the players as Wellington Mara used to refer to the game as "the product."

    "We were the product. What do you do with the product when the game is over for them?" Carson says. "Do you discard it? I guess they are not legally obligated to do anything. Morally, I think they are. If I was in their position, I would have the conscience to take care of my product."

    Carson got the ball rolling with his Hall of Fame speech. "If I had to do it over again," he says now, "I would have said more."
  2. Cajuncowboy

    Cajuncowboy Preacher From The Black Lagoon

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    It really is sad. SOme of these guys, the ones who really built this league, are in such bad shaoe they can hardly move. They played back in the day when you didn't get paid millions of dollars. I really hope something can be done, because these guys are the foundation that the thing that we love to chat about on these boards was built.

    They deserve better than they are getting.
  3. arglebargle

    arglebargle Well-Known Member

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    Couldn't agree more, Cajun. These guys are also the leading edge of the long term debilitating effects of modern football. It's not like the money isn't there either. Given the love of football history shown by many fans, dealing with this should be a PR goldmine for the league and the NFLPA.

    The retired players may be doing the right thing by going to the owners though: I think Mosley had a line on Upshaw recently; "...the owners really like him. That might be the worst criticism I could have about him."

    REDVOLUTION Return to Dominance

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    I think in order to have this thing work out in favor of all.. present and past players.... the TODAY players have to make a stand for YESTERDAYS players.

    The solution is not hard.
  5. 5Stars

    5Stars Here comes the Sun...

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    Starting now, you could take 0.05 % of every NEW players money that signed into the NFL and put it in a fund for the old players and have tons of money to help them out! Why they don't do something like that is just crazy!


    REDVOLUTION Return to Dominance

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    That, my friend.... is just too sensible. :rolleyes:

    As long as everything is cut-throat, bottomline and dollars.... you may never see that... but yeah thats where I was going... good post
  7. 5Stars

    5Stars Here comes the Sun...

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    This is from 2002 on McPuke

    $15,389,225.00 * 0.05 = $769,461.25

    Yeah, it takes under one mil of McPukes money, but it still leaves him with $14,619,763.75...! And $769,461.25 is alot of coin to help these old pioneers of the NFL.

    :confused: It's ridiclous that the NFL cannot come to some sort of solution!!

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica, sans-serif]Player [/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica, sans-serif]Team [/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica, sans-serif]Comp. [/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica, sans-serif]QB D. McNabb [/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica, sans-serif]Eagles [/FONT][FONT=Arial,Helvetica, sans-serif]$15,389,225 [/FONT]
  8. Va_BoysFan4 Life

    Va_BoysFan4 Life Member

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    I totally agree with you all on this matter. And yes it would be a real simple solution if the current players thought like we did. But we all know, we have too many of them out there today that is all about themselves. That is why we have so many players changing teams in FA. It may come down to the Retured players forming their own organization that will represent them. No matter how they do it, I wish them all the success in the world. Because if it wasn't for them, there would be no large contracts for the players today.

    BTW thanks for the article. Good but sad reading.
  9. sillycon

    sillycon Active Member

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    Did you mean 5% or .05%(which you wrote a couple of posts back)?

    If you went with .05% then you would have had to multiply by .0005

    Anyway, perhaps they could do a tiered system like federal taxes...
  10. Hostile

    Hostile The Duke

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    I'd love it if Jerry Jones ever decided to set the mark of a class franchise and for any player who played at least 4 years for the Cowboys in any era, give them full medical insurance.

    You talk about a selling point for Cowboys, that would be just one more.
  11. 5Stars

    5Stars Here comes the Sun...

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    Oh...Ok. I'm not a math major by any means!;)

    That's still good because it then gives $7,695.61 into the pot for the retired guys. Now, doing the same thing to every NEW player coming into the NFL, say starting next draft season to be fair, would contribute a whole lot of coins into the pot.

    Another solution could be that the current years salary cap for every team, have that amount multiplied by 0.0001 and see how much that is! Doing this would take the onus of the individule players and put it on ALL the teams. For example, and check my math (;) ), if the salary cap is say $100,000,000 * 0.0001 = $10,000 * 32 teams = $320,000. That's alot of coin! Do that from now on and you will have tons of money to help these injured/retired players out...

    See how smart I'm not?


    Where there is a will, there is a way!
  12. 5Stars

    5Stars Here comes the Sun...

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    That would be awesome!

    This is the kind of stuff I would absoutely love to have a sit down with Jerry and ask questions like this. I'm sure he has his reasons for doing things, because he's a gazillionair...

    (if i could just get past his umm, uhh, umm, smack's lips stuff)! :bang2:
  13. Cochese

    Cochese Benched

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    The solution is hard. I seriously doubt todays NFL players want their current salary docked or donated for something some men got paid for 30 years ago.
  14. 5Stars

    5Stars Here comes the Sun...

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    Tell them that when THEY are done playing and all crippled to hell!! Remember, if it weren't for all "those 30 years ago" players, these today players would not be making the money they are making!


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