Are current NFL players and owners too greedy to treat retired players fairly and justly?

It appears that we’re close to a new collective bargaining agreement between NFL owners and players.  Both sides will come out fine as they put the finishing touches on a deal to split up $9 billion in revenue.  But former players — who die on average 15 years younger than their male counterparts in this country — are left to wonder why they’ve been left on the curb.

A group of former players has filed a legal complaint against the players and owners saying the two sides “are conspiring to depress the amounts of pensions and disability benefits to be paid to former NFL players in order to maximize the salaries and benefits to current NFL players.”

Old-timers like 71-year-old Mike Ditka, who made $12,000 his first year in the NFL, contend that former players on whose backs the NFL’s popularity was built, deserve more benefits due to the numerous physical and mental disabilities retired players deal with because of their NFL service.

Recently retired player Desmond Howard said he’s concerned about health benefits for former players from Ditka’s era.

“You really want the retired players to get better health care, better pensions,” said Howard.  “These are the people who paved the way for the younger guys who are playing and actually benefiting from what the older guys accomplished … All the reports now coming out from the long-term effects of things like concussions lets you know that we need better health coverage.”

Retired NFL players risk early-onset dementia and other cognitive problems at rates significantly greater than the general population.  Former NFL Hall-of-Famer and head of the players association, John Mackey, recently died at the age of 69 after struggling with the effects of dementia over the last decade of his life.

Mackey’s wife Sylvia described the last 10 years with Mackey this way, “a slow, deteriorating, ugly, caregiver-killing, degenerative, brain-destroying tragic horror.”

Until only very recently, the NFL party line (from both the owners and players union) has been that there isn’t any long-term evidence of any long-term lasting impact from head trauma in the NFL.  Finally, after an outpouring of academic research to the contrary, a growing public outcry, and congressional hearings, the NFL has begun to acknowledge the problem of repetitive collisions in their sport and are gradually taking some safety-related reform measures.

Now it’s time that today’s NFL owners and players set aside their greed and start to treat former players fairly and with more respect.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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