Saturday, July 5, 2008

Continuing Injustice to NFL Retirees

Here are some of the more interesting bits I've found on the ongoing need for the NFL and the Players Association to break open their banks to better fund the pensions of veteran players:

First, although you may recognize Kyle Turley as the guy who threw a Jets helmet into the lights of the Superdome, you may be pleasantly surprised to see his extraordinary support for veteran players. (photo taken from NY Times) If only each existing player were given the information about one player who needs their financial support, then perhaps many of them would become as involved as Turley. Imagine, as the Times article suggests, if each player donated one game's salary to the well-being of the pension fund.

On "Life After Football," the multimedia link for this Times page, former Bills and Cardinals guard Conrad Dobler makes three simple points. (photo from Ebay) First, he reminds us that each of the linemen with whom he played in St. Louis have at least a hip and knee replacement. Dobler himself has had five major surgeries on one knee. The exception to that front line is Bob Young, who died in 1995. My Mom just had her second knee replaced at the age of 71, yet none of the living linemen of whom he speaks are yet 60. Secondly, Dobler says that young players need to understand - particularly linemen younger than Kyle Turley - that they will definitely be where he is, in the hospital, getting expensive medical treatment all their lives. They will probably be there at ages even younger than 50 because they are physically so much heavier than Dobler, Dierdorf, Young and other linemen of the 60's and 70's. Finally, he says that if the league, the players and their union donated "10% of the cap" to the pension, it would make a big difference toward mending the gap between what retired players need and what they get.

Most of all, he insists that none of the former players he knows have even bothered to petition the Players Association or the league for their long-term disabilities. That's just his say, but he also claims that that the league has said to him that to begin a process of opening up the league's coffers would more likely mean an "opening of the floodgates" that would financially cripple the league over time. This sounds so much like the usual mantras people offer to put off righting an injustice. It's just more convenient to keep the same profits moving in the same upward direction without thinking about how those profits might be directed toward improving, in the smallest ways, the human nuts and bolts of the game's tradition.

The extent of the movement to reform the pension fund is embodied in Dave Pear's blog, devoted almost solely to the issue. The most consistent theme seems to be that the Players Association has a strong responsibility to make this a greater issue with the league. With Gene Upshaw in charge of the union, good luck.

Consider the millions and millions more it is costing both the Jets and the Giants to build their new stadium. Sure, the Jets are having a harder case for pricing PSL's to fans, despite the success the Giants are having bilking their fans with the same idea, but Jets fans know PSL's are inevitable. But consider that we also know that that these two teams have overseen a construction process that is running hugely over budget. According to Richard Sandomir in the Times, the Patriots' Gillette Stadium "opened in 2003 at a reported construction cost of $325 million, all paid for by the team. No seat licenses were sold." I don't need to tell you how galling that is. Two teams, building one stadium, need PSL's to cover construction costs that should have been managed properly. Imagine that. Well, let's face it - the costs are convenient considering that Mara and Johnson were probably considering PSL's from the get-go. The league allows that kind of financial irresponsibility to go on, forcing fans to refinance their lives as if they were planning to send a phantom child to college or to buy another house. Yet apparently reaching out to struggling players with only a fraction of its billion dollar business would be considered "opening the floodgates."

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