NFL owes its retirees a lot soon Amid the nightmarish backdrop of crushed bones, amputated feet, homelessness and early onsets of dementia, it is time for the NFL to answer the wakeup call. The gladiators of a bygone era laid the foundation for today's game and the billions in revenue it generates. Now they are cast aside. Note to the NFL: It's time to take care of your elders. It is upon the broken bones and torn cartilage of these old-timers that the modern NFL was built. Compared to today's pay scale, they sacrificed their bodies for pennies. The league pays homage to them with videos. But that's the only payment. They don't get residuals from NFL Films. Yes, there is a pension fund. Yes, there is a disability plan. But the system is flawed. Too many have been left behind or lost in the paperwork. The dirty laundry was aired in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee last week. Members of Congress got a glimpse into the dark side of a league that sometimes forgets its former heroes. Tale of woe The horror stories need to be told. And they are many. Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame center during the Steelers' dynasty, spent his final years living in his pickup truck, his body broken and his mind not far behind. Johnny Unitas' golden arm was so mangled that he could not sign his name to sell his autograph in his later years. It goes on and on. And as the congressional hearing showed us, not all of those affected are ancient warriors. One of those who testified is Brian DeMarco, age 35, who said he has been homeless on three occasions and is near financial ruin because of football-related injuries and his inability to pay for proper medical treatment. "There are so many more like me out there," DeMarco told reporters. At issue is whether the NFL and the Players Association have properly funded older retirees and those who suffered disabling injuries while playing pro ball. NFL legends Mike Ditka and Jerry Kramer have led the crusade. Age-old question The league and the NFL Players Association note that pensions for older players are on the rise. Last week, they made it easier for former players to collect disability. Many see this as Young vs. Old, where current players are less than generous to those who came before them. Peter Sirmon, former union representative for the Titans, says that is not the case. "As players, we're a big community," said Sirmon, who retired after the '06 season and is now in the real estate business. "We don't want to see former players that are struggling or hurting." Sirmon points out that in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, pension payments were raised 25 percent for players who retired before 1982 and 10 percent for those who retired after '82. "The players of today know the sacrifices that the players before us made," Sirmon said. "You understand the history of the game." Indeed, history is a great teacher. And one of the best lessons is to take care of your elders.