Behind the Scenes at the Alliance Meetings

Dec 17, 2008

More keeps coming out on the touchy-feely meetings that Commissioner Goodell has been conducting with the “Alliance” in league cities across the country. The first meeting held in Dallas ended with Disability Attorney being invited – and then uninvited – by John Wooten (read about that HERE) and as revealed in a series of interesting e-mails that followed the meeting (read about that HERE). Then a dull second meeting in Chicago and a more interesting one last week in Baltimore. The spouses of several players with dementia confronted the Commissioner outside of the meeting room about being denied a voice in the process. And then the New York Times backed it up with the revelation that it was the Alliance who decided to close the meetings to everyone except retired players (read about that HERE and HERE).

Behind the scenes, there’s been a flurry of e-mails and phone calls between the retired players and some members of the “Alliance,” discussing and rationalizing the secret decision to keep the meetings closed. And lots and lots of backpedaling and finger-pointing. We’ve got one interesting exchange that came from Alliance member John Wooten trying once again to explain his way out of another ridiculous situation. Tony Davis’ response is first and Wooten’s e-mail follows at the end. Tony is expressing an opinion that the majority of retired players all seem to share. So why weren’t the other players even consulted before the Big Brother Alliance decided for them?

From: Tony Davis
To: John Wooten; Bruce Laird; Dave Pear
Cc: Mike Connelly; Jack Kemp; Merlin Olsen; Jerry Kramer; Daryl Johnston; Harry Carson

To members of the NFL/NFLPA Alliance,

First, let me thank you for all of your efforts on behalf of the NFL Retired Players. I spoke to Harry at length about this issue after the NY Times story came out (and after I wrote him and my email list of over 4,000 NFL Retired Players). Harry’s explanation on the “Players Only” decision did help me understand his – and apparently your – stance on this issue. Harry wanted me to understand that your group wanted to meet with “just the men,” like it used to be on our respective teams when there were issues that required a team-only meeting. We can all understand that kind of meeting. But with all due respect, this was not one of them.

I don’t have a website and I don’t do a blog. I communicate with many people who have a vested interest and passion to see fairness and justice brought to what we see as a corrupt system with regard to the NFLPA. Those issues still remain the same: A Pension that equals MLB, a Disability system that meets the specific needs of the unique employment of the National Football League and – last but not least – a real VOICE in the administration of the plans that affect us.

The issue of a representative voice comes up every time the “Alliance” is brought into any conversation. I believe that there are honorable men of integrity on the “Alliance.” Among the majority of NFL Retired Players with whom I communicate, this body is not viewed as one that represents them. The reason for this is that this group was put together under the approval of Commissioner Goodell and Gene Upshaw. Based on the verdict given in the Class Action Suit, where the NFLPA/Players Inc. was found complicit in the violation of its Fiduciary duty to its members, the lasting impression of corruption in the NFLPA and Gene Upshaw is stronger than ever. Many have e-mailed me wondering why any Retired Players even sit at the same table with this group. Some of you are in the Hall of Fame. This group that was supposed to market you was laughing out loud at getting you bargain-basement money. Why have we heard only a few Hall of Famers speak out against Players Inc.? Many of you who signed the GLA’s were represented as plaintiffs in this case. Men, this group is guilty of stealing…

I ask Harry this question and I will ask all of you the same one. There are well over 5,000 NFL Retired Players. Most are not involved in the NFLPA Retired Players or the NFL Alumni Association. Most choose not to be “members” for the same reason: Nothing was being done on their behalf. The golf outings use only the Hall of Fame or name players; they’re never asked to autograph sessions to make money even though many played 5 to 10 years. The character they show today is the same we saw in them as teammates. They loved the game, wanted to be a winner and did it without attention. They wanted to be representatives for their teams and – like all of us – wanted the respect of their teammates and their coaches. Now, as time has passed, they once again see the need to be a representative of “The Team.” They want to be included. When a meeting is organized for NFL Retired Players, to discuss the issues that pertain specifically to them and they are told what they can ask, who can attend and that it will be exclusive, they want to know why.

And you must understand that if you’re on the “Alliance,” that doesn’t represent what the majority of the NFL Retired Players want to stand for. They don’t recognize this group and see it as another Upshaw-appointed club. If it insults any of you who are working hard to make legitimate changes, it is what it is. When you are aligned with a group that was just ordered to pay $28 million in punitive and compensatory damages, you should not expect a whole lot of ‘at-a-boys.’ When you say nothing about more millions of our union money being spent to appeal a decision that found them guilty of stealing from us, many wonder what you are thinking.

I have received over 50 e-mails from NFL Retired Players wives who are not really happy as you can imagine. At this point in time in each of our careers, the meetings we now take part in are no longer for motivating each other to do our jobs, to play harder and to know our assignments. These days, we get together to discuss health issues, to find out if widows need money and what can we do to lobby for a fair share of revenues that will be lining the pockets of the active players who have more funded programs than any of them need. If you really want to find out about the real issues of the NFL Retired Players, you ask our wives. If Roger Goodell wants to know the real story of the conditions of the NFL Retired Player and he excludes the wives, he’ll never get the real truth. You want to make positive, real change? Become inclusive.

The majority of the NFL Retired Players will read this e-mail. We’re a group of men who see a problem that directly affects our families and we’ve finally decided that we have had enough. We WILL be included in how our lives are being decided, one way or another. Attorney John Hogan should be embraced by your group. He has single-handedly done more for the NFL Disabled Players than any of us. If he has answers to our questions, why would he be excluded? If you do not include the advocates that are in trenches with the rest of us, you will drive a wedge in this body that’s even deeper than it is now.

Last spring, Commissioner Goodell and Gene Upshaw were called in front of Congress. They were told following the CSR report that:

“This report clearly demonstrates that the NFL and NFLPA need to eliminate the conflict of interest by team doctors who place the financial interests of their teams ahead of players’ health. The NFL cannot expect to simultaneously be team owner and referee,” said Sánchez. “After further reviewing the proposals suggested by CRS, I plan to work with my colleagues on legislation addressing several of the issues raised in the report.”

We see this statement and then see Commissioner Goodell making appearances at certain cities and it really looks like he is preparing his cover for the next round of testimony that will occur in front of Congress. I hear from several former players who communicate with Mr. Goodell that he is a good man who wants to make the right changes. It is my prayer that they are correct. If you follow the pattern of past action by both the NFL and the NFLPA, you will see that few, if any, changes to the conditions of the NFL Retired Players took place without being forced by court action or strong public opinion. Gene Upshaw used to say that the NFLPA does more for its Retired Players than any Union. The hard, cold facts don’t support that statement. Every single CBA that MLB negotiated included same level increases in the pensions of Retired Players as was received by the Active Players. I don’t have to tell you that those figures don’t exist in our sport and with our union.

The other pattern of change in the NFL/NFLPA has been appointed groups and programs that usually help very, very few of the members. I sincerely believe that there are great men with great intentions in the offices of the NFL, as well as among the NFL Retired Players. I know many of them. Unfortunately, some are exclusive and have been led to believe they represent the NFL Retired Players without ever being given that authority by the NFL Retired Players. So the next time you visit with Roger Goodell or Harold Henderson and they ask you what you think the NFL Retired Players would like on these issues, make sure you know the real answers.

In the meantime, those of us who break the wedges and cover the kicks will be hammering for the majority of NFL Retired Players to make sure that justice is served. Making a mistake is not an issue unless it’s never corrected. You see, leadership is never appointed – it’s earned.

Tony Davis

NFL Retired

Cincinnati Bengals
Tampa Bay Buccaneers


From: John Wooten
To: Bruce Laird; Dave Pear; M.E. Davis
Cc: Mike Connelly; Jack Kemp; Merlin Olsen; Jerry Kramer; Daryl Johnston; Harry Carson

Sent: Sunday, December 14, 2008 6:27:25 PM
Subject: Players only meeting

Fellows please pass the E mail on to every one you know that is a retired player- Thank you-
There has been a lot of talk and questions as to why Wives and significant others were and are not allowed in the retired players meeting with the Commissioner- Let me try to explain how the decision was made

1st of all if the wife has to accompany her spouse in order to get him top the meeting- we all agreed that would be acceptable – The reason for the “players Only ” was we have many players who are very sensitive and in some cases embarrassed as to what is going on in their lives one of the things that Merlin Olsen has spoken out very strongly on the dignity and respecter we owe to our fellow players- Even to the point of saying to the NFL ALUMINi to change the name of the Dire Need fund- to another name – It is my understanding that the NFLPA has changed its Player asst trust to the Eugene Upshaw Fund the NFL Player Care Foundation works under the name of Financial Grants- All to move toward keeping the dignity of the players and respect to be in the highest class-
We have had wives to refuse her husband filing out a application for disability because she said it was welfare- We all know that there has been a great deal of lack of caring and follow up with many players – To the point we know a great number of players have totally been mistreated and that was the purpose of the meetings with the Commissioner around the country- It was a part of trying to make communications a better way than what we had before- It came after our meeting on Sept 5th- had ended- and we were sitting around talking of ways we could improve communications with retired players- Merlin Olsen spoke up about their having 175 guys at the Rams Reunion- The commissioner ask did all teams do this on an annual bases not all teams – But we all felt that if he was willing to come to certain areas in the country we could get retired players to come to a meeting where he could hear the concerns and issues right from the players who are affected himself- That is when we structured the idea of his visiting us around the country- We also decided that it would be players only no outsiders -no media- Only Players except if the person was there to accompany a player who needed assistance-

We all know what wives go through trying to help and take care of us- But we all know what goes on in A players only meeting because there is not one of us who has not been in a players only meeting- I heard Frank Gifford say last night on the “Best Game ever played said he and Sam Huff almost gotinto a fight over whether Jack Kemp was going to get a cut of the Championship Game – We know why we want and prefer Players only ,meetings it gives everyone the chance to speak his mind no matter the situation-

I plead with you let’s not let this become an issue we are makinfg headway to make the Disability and Retirement funds to be what it should be-Let’s stay on that course-

Harry Carson has been in touch with the Commissioner officew and he has agreed to meet with the Wives and discuss all of the issues surrounding them in their care of our friends and former teammates- Please understand we need for all of us to be together aand please know if your wife has to accompany you so that you can get to a meeting she is welcomed- We all know what they do to make our lives better they have always had a tough life to take care of us and dementia and alhzemiers is even tougher- we know that all of us have been touched by this dreaded disease and if you haven’t I hope you never will it is the most dread of anything I have ever encountered- I hope all of you will understand why it was Players Only- God Bless all of us- Keep fighting we are on the right track-

John Wooten

9 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Pear
    December 17th, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    Dave & Heidi Pear
    Dear Retired Players,

    Heidi and I certainly agree that wives and caregivers should be allowed into the Meetings. However, the current disability system itself is illegal and in violation of ERISA Law. Attorney John Hogan is a disability expert who can explain the existing violations and the solutions. Commissioner Goodell has worked for the league since 1982. Certainly, he should already know what the problems are! Until retired players have legal representation inside these closed door meetings just like Commissioner Goodell has his lawyer, Harold Henderson, sitting next to him, we’ll continue to be on the wrong track and keep going around in circles. If retired players actually knew the specifics, they would be screaming at Commissioner Goodell for INEXCUSABLE CONDUCT.

    This is a legal issue and other than Harold Henderson NOBODY inside those meeting rooms understands disability law. Why do you think John Hogan is not allowed to speak at these meetings? The ONLY reason is they don’t want retired players to know their legal rights. Sooner or later, this truth will come out but until then nothing is going to change.

    It is essential that Mr. Hogan speak at these meetings to educate us all.


    Dave & Heidi Pear

  2. Bruce Laird
    December 17th, 2008 at 4:32 pm #

    Bruce Laird

    Caregivers should be allowed in the meetings – their husbands can’t speak for themselves. The caregivers have so much information to give to retired players and the League about what actually happens to their families. I spoke to Eleanor Perfetto after the meeting and she had so much to share with all retired players about what actually happens to the family of a Dementia victim.

    The alliance should re-think their decision and allow caregivers to attend these meetings. My wife – and many of the other wives – would love to hear from the the caregivers about the pitfalls of the 88 plan and how wonderful it is.

    Who are the 97 families in the 88 plan and why can’t these women know so they can work together to help all of us? Two women asked to attend the Washington meeting (caregivers who only wanted to tell us their stories and not to blame anyone – they came to praise Caesar, not bury him). And both were turned down by e-mails prior to the meeting because retired players in the Alliance told the League that they should not have wives.

    My feeling is it was a mistake. We all make mistakes, no big deal. Just change it, it’s the right thing to do. It’s not the end of the world; no real harm done yet. But now we know that caregivers want to tell their stories and Dr. Eleanor Perfetto would have been a great one to do just that.

    Bruce Laird
    Fourth & Goal

  3. Irv Cross
    December 18th, 2008 at 9:10 am #

    Irv Cross
    Tony: Fantastic letter!

    Woot: I feel your passion.

    If any of you have not met Merlin Olson, you need to. He is one of the brightest people on earth, beside being a Hall of Fame Football Player and a man of great character.

    I came into the league in 1961 as a seventh round draft choice for the Philadelphia Eagles. I was fortunate enough to have a solid career which led to a long-term position in network television, business and athletic administration.

    Thanks to Dave Pear and others, we have a way to communicate and keep abreast of the issues of the day. It is my hope we can find resolutions to our disability and retirement issues as soon as possible. We can’t afford to waste a lot of time debating the format for trying to find out the nature of our problems and solutions to them. Too many of my teammates from 1961 and other guys I played with and against have passed away. If we keep venting a lot of hot air we will only see more of our retired NFL brothers quietly pass away unnoticed and they and their families uncared for.

    Here is one suggestion: When a college president has major issues, he or she conducts focus groups for fact-finding and broad scale discussion. My guess is the Alliance is trying to reach that objective. The problem is the discussion is not broad enough (need spouses and others) in the meetings, or transparent enough to reach any conclusions suitable for retirees as a whole. We are blessed with a broad array of skills within the retired players fraternity. Let’s elect, appoint or vote in a representative group of skilled professionals to conduct focus groups jointly with the Alliance to discover all facts related to the disability needs of retirees. Within our retired group we have a Supreme Court Justice, national political leaders, Medical Doctors, Attorneys and one great friend of the retired players who is an expert in disability law. Let this group, along with someone representing spouses, tour the country with the Commissioner. The committee should prepare minutes from each meeting for retired players and at the conclusion of all sessions, prepare a full report with recommended actions.

    We have outstanding skills within the framework of the retired players, let’s put it to work.

    Irv Cross

  4. Dave Pear
    December 18th, 2008 at 5:02 pm #

    Dave Ring
    Dear Irv,

    I appreciate your words, “elect or vote.” Heidi and I would like to vote for “one great friend of retired players who is an expert disability attorney”: Mr. John Hogan!

    Mr. Hogan will educate retired players as to our “legal rights” and how the disability system is actually supposed to work under ERISA Law.

    Dave & Heidi Pear

  5. Irv Cross
    December 19th, 2008 at 6:24 pm #

    Irv Cross
    Dave et al:

    The more I think about focus groups the better I like it. What if we had a representative group of experts conduct meetings with all Alumni chapters? Here’s one inexpensive way to do it: Each chapter should recommend someone to be a member of the panel of experts. These people can be retired players or someone highly regarded in the field of disability law. The panel should consist of a group that would be representative of every region of the country (6-8) people. In addition to the panel of experts, we’ll need spouses, caregivers and representatives from long-term care institutions. I also believe the media should receive releases of each meeting and have access to all participants.

    How to do this: Have each chapter underwrite the cost of a teleconference call. If you do not have the funds in your budget look for a corporate sponsor. The host chapter will be responsible for setting up the conference date and site. To accelerate the process, you might want to have several chapters included in the teleconference call at the same time. Minutes are kept of all meetings with a final report with recommended actions. This report, once reviewed and voted on by the retired players’ organizations, can then be released to the NFL, NFLPA, MLB, NBA, NHL, Congress and the public.

    Guys, is there any reason we cannot do this on our own right now? Any thoughts?

    When I left the Rams in 1968 I had a physical and the doctor told me my knees looked like those of an 80-year old man (I was 27 at the time). Today I’m 69 and have had both knees replaced over the past four years. Nearly all of us have had some parts of our bodies replaced, fused, broken and torn. Let’s recognize those of us who have injuries serious enough to be called disabled and fix it.

    Any thoughts?

    Irv Cross

  6. Bob Grant
    December 21st, 2008 at 9:25 pm #

    Bob Grant
    Great idea, Irv!

    We as Independent Player Advocates began planning some time ago for the same type of Summit that you’re proposing. Our plan is scheduled for May of 2009 and we have already registered quite a few Retired Players, some of whom you know very well.

    We have, in addition, already received responses from experts, from a number of different fields relevant to the struggle of Retired Players, who will be making presentations to those who attend. Each Player in attendance will have the same vote and voice that the leader or rep from any Group does.

    We have a Retired Player who is working on Travel discounts and another who has offered to work on a teleconference arrangement that will allow many guys who can not attend to participate. In addition, we’ve had discussions with an experienced Mediator from our family ranks to be available to manage the Summit. All Players, widows and wives are welcomed. We have already heard from some of the ladies and many of the Players have registered their wives as well when they wrote in. Our Independent Advocates have all worked toward making this Summit a reality for a number of months now. If you are proposing something different from what we already have under way, please let me know if I can be of help in any way. We hope that you will register and work with us as well. Our Retired Players may register by contacting Abner Haynes.

    Bob Grant

  7. Irv Cross
    December 22nd, 2008 at 8:52 am #

    Irv Cross

    BINGO!! What you and Abner are doing is exactly what I had in mind. I hope you have invited John Hogan to be one of your experts on disability law. He is well-respected in his field and has given fantastic advice and support to retired players.

    What are your feelings about releasing statements to the media and making our findings public? I will contact Abner.

    Irv Cross

  8. Dave Pear
    December 22nd, 2008 at 1:59 pm #

    Dave & Heidi Pear

    I agree with you and Bob Grant. I especially like the part of having the media there during these meetings. Attorney John Hogan is a champion for justice and he has pointed out the problems and the solutions with the existing Plan Document.

    The issues need to be made transparent to ALL. Retired Players’ legal rights continue to be violated and this needs to STOP NOW! Until the NFLPA start to follow the Rule of Law, we will continue to be on the wrong track and will keep going around in circles.

    Dave & Heidi Pear

  9. William Red Mack
    December 30th, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    William Red Mack
    The media should always be kept up to date on all the Retired Players issues. We’ve been yelling into a brick wall as far as the NFL is concerned. They’ve been laughing at us because they feel they have the upper hand. Remember those that yell the loudest, get the most attention. If we could get the entire media — TV, radio, newspapers and the Internet to hear about the NFL and how the retired players have been treated (i.e. – the players that made the league famous enough for everyone to make the billions they now enjoy), maybe things would quickly change.

    Most fans do not know what is going on with Retired Players and their health issues. I myself have had two knee replacements and a hip replacement. I also have a shoulder that is giving me problems. Why not name all the sports people and retired players by name who are sympathetic to our cause? I’m sure there are many but they don’t know where to begin.

    At this point, if the NFLPA doesn’t follow the Rule of Law, who’s to know but us.

    Red Mack