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Denver Post: Tackling a sore subject

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by Angus, Jun 25, 2007.

  1. Angus

    Angus Active Member

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    Tackling a sore subject
    Complaints about NFL benefits go to congressional hearing
    By Mike Klis
    Denver Post Staff Writer
    Article Last Updated: 06/25/2007 01:29:59 AM MDT

    Hobbling on wounded knees, bowed with broken backs, suppressing hostilities against their former employers in exchange for congressional decorum, several former NFL players will shuffle into the Rayburn Building in Washington on Tuesday and tell their stories about how their league has not only forgotten them, but attempted to strangle their quality of life through an unwieldy retirement and disability benefit system.

    The biggest challenge might be suppressing hostilities. Yesterday's greats and not-so-greats have been screaming claims of injustices and disloyalty from public podiums since the week leading up to Super Bowl XLI in early February. Much to the dismay of the league and the NFL Players Association, the hollering has been heard by influential people who sit on Capitol Hill.

    A House Judiciary subcommittee will formally hear unsworn testimony Tuesday from all concerned parties regarding the NFL's retirement-disability-system-under-siege. Although this hearing is considered a fact-finding exercise so preliminary that past and present NFL commissioners Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell, and players union chief Gene Upshaw, will not be present, it will be clear from the onset the former players will play the role of the sympathetic plaintiffs while the league and the union will be viewed as the bullying defense.

    "You read these stories about these graphic, graphic injuries and you wonder why a ($7) billion industry can't look out after some of the giants that helped build that league," said U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who chairs the House subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law. "I'm a due process kind of a girl. I'm a lawyer and I believe everybody should have their day in court and everybody should have a fair shake at presenting their case. But we've seen some of the retired players being denied benefits while the NFL, quite frankly, continues to profit off their work. It just seems like a really hypocritical situation."

    Clearly, impartiality will not be the NFL's friend Tuesday. Perhaps this is why Goodell, Tagliabue and Upshaw have decided not to alter previous commitments for the privilege of walking into a potential hornet's nest on the Hill, instead sending their associates to the hearing. Dennis Curran, an attorney who oversees the NFL's collective bargaining agreement's benefits package, will be the league's lone representative.

    "I will say I am somewhat disappointed that Mr. Upshaw will not be presenting himself for testimony," Sanchez said.

    Yet many former players know all too well that if ever there was an entity capable of winning a case stacked against them, it's the NFL. At issue is a benefits package the players union boasts on its website as "the very best in professional sports for our member players," only to have it ridiculed as grossly inadequate by those who need it most - the former players.

    "The retirement plan has been contorted into a way for the players association to aid the active players," said Bernie Parrish, a former Cleveland Browns defensive back who successfully lobbied for the hearing. "The retirement plan's solution is simply to match baseball's. That's how we players started out. What happened was Upshaw and Tagliabue came along and they cut out the retired players and diverted that money into new plans for active players."

    Baseball benefits better

    While much of the former players' cause is built on the emotion of heart-tugging stories of despair, Parrish understands the legal system well enough to realize all claims had better be supported by substantive data. According to his figures, Major League Baseball, which draws annual revenues of $4.3 billion, pays out an average of $36,700 in benefits to its participating players. Compare that with the NFL, which currently is drawing $7.1 billion in annual revenues, yet its average benefit payout is $13,000.

    The NFL and union officials counter with their recent collective bargaining agreement in which they agreed to an unprecedented 25 percent increase in former and current player benefits, and other perks such as matching $2 to a vested annuity plan for every $1 contributed as examples of why they need not apologize for their retirement plan.

    And while the NFL appears to be a highly lucrative enterprise now, there is reason to fear that loosening disability standards could become a slippery financial slope in a sport where violent physical contact and the high risk of injury are inherent.

    "We look forward to answering the subcommittee's questions," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

    However, the league seemingly understands there is an emotional aspect to this benefit squabble that it cannot defeat, especially on the issue of disability claims.

    "I can't make a living"

    After former stars Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers and Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears introduced the Gridiron Greats fund to help needy former players at their Super Bowl news conference, heart- wrenching setbacks suffered by such recognizable players as Willie Wood, Wilber Marshall, Conrad Dobler and Herb Adderley were brought to the national forefront.

    More recently, Gridiron Greats stumbled upon the near hopeless predicaments facing lesser-known players such as Mike Mosley, a receiver for the Buffalo Bills from 1982-84; and Brian DeMarco, an offensive lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-98.

    Mosley experienced knee, neck and back injuries that shortened his career and eventually left him permanently disabled, at least as initially ruled by the NFL disability committee. However, Mosley said in September 2004, a doctor hired by the NFL ruled sedentary work was possible and all disability payments were cut off.

    "The worst thing? I lost everything," Mosley said. "First of all, I lost my house. I lost my truck. I lost my savings. I lost my whole way of living. I can't make a living. I had to move in with my mom, and I have a 14-year-old daughter I have custody of. I don't have a way to buy her clothes. I don't have a way to pick her up and take her places. It just ruined my life, not just a little bit but pretty much all the way."

    DeMarco, whose career ended amid severe health problems after the 1999 season, said he has never been able to get through the NFL disability system's red tape to get his application approved - and his back was broken in 17 places. He has such severe numbness in his arms and hands that his wife, Autumn, had to hold the phone for him for this interview.

    "Because of this (NFL) system, me and my family have been homeless three times in the last four years," DeMarco said. "I've lived in a storage unit for five months with my wife and two children. I'm hoping that this doesn't happen to anybody else. That's all. This is a multibillion-dollar business, and guys are giving their quality of life up for this sport. Just a little respect and dignity is all we want."

    Not so coincidently, the league announced last week it would adopt the national social security disability standards for its players. It's a move Parrish said the NFL successfully fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court not long ago.

    The key to the national disability standards is it allows for a player's treating physician to make the final determination about whether his patient is disabled. The NFL disability system was accused of insisting on using its own physicians.

    "Yes, it's a victory, but what a butt-covering hypocrisy that they get to pat themselves on the back when they spent all that money to defeat it," Parrish said. "If it weren't for the pressure we're putting on them and the media and now Congress, they wouldn't have done a thing."

    http://www.denverpost.com/sports/ci_6220875
  2. Sandyf

    Sandyf Member

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    I see where Bob Lilly gets a retirement check for #112.50 PER MONTH from the players association. Someone tell me now that Upshaw doesn't need replacing!!!
  3. GimmeTheBall!

    GimmeTheBall! Junior College Transfer

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    On the one hand you have a billion-dollar enterprise being chintzy with the players after they are no longer of service as players.

    Then there is the players association that seems to have grown too comfortable with their current salaries and celebritydom with little thought to helping their counterparts who are now in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s.

    Then there are the retired players who have gripes with pensions, health care and life in general. They knew what they were signing for back then and took the quick money without really contemplating life after the NFL.

    As for the latter, they need to have their own doctors determine disabilities instead of NFL doctors. Beyond that, these retirees are like any other segment of the population: They want more and feel neglected.
    Just like military veterans. Just like those in myriad professions that take a toll on limbs and overall health. Just like the millions of HMO victims, um, patients who can't get decent health care because administrators get bonuses for cutting operating costs.

    The retirees are no different from the rest of society except for two things: At one point, they were pulling in more money than their nonplayer counterparts. And because some are fomer big names, they get the publicity.

    They should be glad they have the spotlight on them, unlike the millions of other regular people who don't even have that.

    Good luck to the retirees. And welcome to the real world.
  4. Iago33

    Iago33 Well-Known Member

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    Maybe it's my line of work (darn), but why should former players get anything when they don't work in that career anymore. This isn't the Army (I've gotten used to the government throwing money away).

    I do think players should have medical issues from playing taken care of, but if you work for a company for 15 years, is that company usually responsible for paying you for the rest of your life? It doesn't work that way in my line of work.

    [fire away--I'm sure I deserve it for asking such a naive question]

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