Putting Everyone on the Same Page

May 17, 2009

The news has been incredibly blunt in these hard times: Medicare and Social Security could be hitting the wall in 8 years. It’s going to hit everyone hard, especially the baby boomers and those who can ill afford to lose it. For many, what little assistance they might get from Medicare and SSI is all they have to fall back on. And many of us have friends and family who have already been totally wiped out financially by a medical catastrophe.

Wasted Money Down the Drain

A lot of our readers who have been following this blog are certainly well aware of Dave’s personal battle with his injuries from giving the game everything he had and more. After spending more than a half-million dollars of his own money on medical expenses (click HERE), Dave finally qualified for Social Security Disability benefits in 2004 (click HERE) and his growing medical expenses are being paid with SSI and Medicare funds – our money collectively. In all, Dave has spent MORE out of his own pocket than the NFL ever paid him to play football – including winning a SuperBowl and playing in a Pro Bowl with his teammates. And all Dave got as reimbursement from the NFL’s Hip Replacement Program was enough for a t-shirt and two seat cushions so far (click HERE and HERE). With the news coming out now that both Social Security and Medicare may start running out of money in 8 years (read some of the stories HERE and HERE), we all have a lot to worry about. Younger, current players will become retired players soon enough. And despite the millions many of them may be receiving today, those millions may not mean too much in the future. Michael Vick went to prison with over $20 million under management and came out of prison a year-and-a-half later only to be forced into bankruptcy from gross mismanagement of his estate. And health care costs are NOT going down. If you finally start realizing that you’re suffering from the direct aftereffects of a professional football career, once you finish draining all your own millions for hip replacements, knee replacements, medication and caregivers, the safety net of Social Security and Medicare may also be gone by then. And if you believe that your own Union, the NFLPA, is supposed to have benefits set aside for you as a safety net, read this blog and all the other blogs from retired players. We haven’t found too many stories that tell you how well you’ll be treated and taken care of in your retirement years (other than the NFLPA’s site!). Even though the NFLPA now extends health care coverage for up to 5 years after retirement, many of those problems might not show up until 10 or more years later. Unless something drastic changes, you can expect to be treated the same way as the older retired players have been treated for the past 25+ years. We’ve gone out of our way to document everything that’s happened to Dave and other players in agonizing detail so everyone can see it  – current players, retired players, unbelieving fans, lawyers – yes, lawyers – and just about anyone else who will listen. There’s only one way to get your benefits back: Retired AND current players will have to stand together on the same page to demand accountability and responsibility for YOUR money. And the public has a right to know why – with hundreds of millions handed to them by the NFL for disability and pension benefits – the NFLPA is forcing those retired players to have to fall back on SSI and Medicare to pay for much of their care. Doesn’t that in fact make the NFLPA clearly guilty of defrauding the American public?

As we get closer to The Summit (May 29 – 31 in Las Vegas), all of these issues happen to be gaining more prominence in these tough economic times. We’re seeing many younger, recently retired players signing up to attend The Summit. A lot of these guys are already experiencing the physical effects from the brutality of the sport. Since this blog first went up over a year ago, we’ve seen firsthand the wide gap in understanding between the younger generation and those of an older generation. Some of the comments we’ve posted come from a younger generation that includes gamers who can’t seem to comprehend why these old football players who are all supposed to be multimillionaires would complain about paying for their ongoing medical expenses. It only underscores the generational gap in comprehending the difference between fighting for what was supposed to be yours and looking for a handout. These disability and pension benefits were negotiated and accumulated over the years and the money is supposed to be dispersed fairly to those who earned it.

Liferaft

We understand the new NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith has been repeating Gene Upshaw’s old demands to open the NFL’s books for closer scrutiny (click HERE). To that, we also demand that the NFLPA open its own books to the retired players for scrutiny. In fact, a GAO (Government Accountability Office) audit is in order and long overdue as the only way to uncover where all the retired players’ benefits have gone. Despite all the rhetoric and PR stunts from Commissioner Goodell, we think that there’s one thing that he can say that would actually help the retired players the most without costing him one red cent. Simply come forward on behalf of the NFL and the owners and clearly state that one  reason the NFLPA and the current players receive a disproportionate – and staggering – 60% of gross revenues is because of a deal that the dearly departed Gene Upshaw negotiated years ago: A portion of those revenues were always earmarked to fund disability and retirement benefits for all retired players.

Over the past 25+ years under Upshaw, huge enterprises and fiefdoms were set up to take in the money and “manage” it: Organizations, committees, subcommittees and Boards, complete with friends and family were supposedly all put in place with no term limits or accountability to the very people it was supposed to care for, even as they looted it year in and year out. Annual trips to fancy resorts and hotels with all expenses paid – including perks like daycare – out of the very funds they were supposed to distribute to the retired players, just so they could then callously deny benefits to the majority of players with the most need. Any system like that without checks-and-balances is always open to cronyism and corruption, regardless if it’s a corporate enterprise, a Union pension fund or a dictatorship. And then they had the nerve to set up dire need funds to “assist” those players who could no longer pay for their day-to-day living expenses, even as those who manage the funds drew 6-figure salaries over the past 25 years and completely ignored the very men and their families they  were charged with serving. (It’s called a Breach of Fiduciary Responsibility.) The retired players should not have to go through the humiliating process of trying to fight for access to their earned disability and pension funds that should at least match those in the MLB. It’s an insult to current AND retired players alike when unproven and untested rookies get signed up to multimillion dollar contracts that serve to enrich agents such as Tom Condon, while he continues to sit on the Disability Board and vote down benefit applications year-in and year-out.

Commissioner Goodell – your best answer to the NFLPA’s demand to look at your books is to join the retired players in asking for a full GAO audit of the NFLPA’s books to see just where all those benefit funds have gone. Forget that photo op listening tour. Forget setting up any more dire need funds. Toss out the PR department. The single most important thing you can do for the retired players, the owners (your bosses) and the NFL – and yes, even the current players – is to openly declare that a percentage of the money given to the NFLPA from gross revenues has always been intended to go directly to the retired players and that a full accounting is finally in order. This could easily be the most significant, defining moment of your career. You’d be helping a lot of people including yourself. And it won’t cost you a thing politically, financially or emotionally. All the players – current AND retired – will thank you. The owners will thank you. The media will praise you for your boldness. All you have to do is say it and it could define your entire tenure as Commissioner of Football.

3 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Bob Grant
    May 17th, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

    Bob Grant
    Very, very well presented and said.

    Bob Grant
    Player Advocate & Summit Coordinator

  2. Daily News About Fighting : A few links about Fighting - Sunday, 17 May 2009 18:13
    May 17th, 2009 at 7:22 pm #

    […] Putting Everyone on the Same Page […]

  3. Larry Kaminski
    May 18th, 2009 at 8:19 am #

    Larry Kaminski
    Great writing. This hits home and is probably like preaching to the choir. We need to get the press behind us.

    Like you, I have spent many dollars on health care. In June, when SSA finally puts me on SSD and Medicare, I’ll have been spending $13,000 a year on my health costs. These were basics and not even including problems from football-related issues.

    Guys, do not be complacent. You wouldn’t let a thief come into your house and rob you and that’s what this NFL/NFLPA has done over the years.

    Thanks for the consideration.

    Larry Kaminski
    Denver Broncos 1966 – 1973