2011: What I’ve Learned So Far
UPDATED JAN. 1, 2011 WITH VIDEO CLIP BELOW:
It’s been nearly 3 years since Dave and I first ventured into blogging about professional football and what actually happens behind the scenes in the lives of those men who have played the game once they leave that field for the last time. Dave’s been at this for over 30 years since being sidelined after Superbowl XV in 1980 with a broken neck and subsequently denied his disability benefits several times – even in spite of the NFL’s own doctor declaring him to be 80%+ disabled in 1995.
As someone who has never had any serious interest in professional sports in general and football in particular, it’s been a real eye-opening 3 years to hear about how so many of these injustices continue today. And in the open. Fortunately, the Internet has enabled people to communicate more openly and transparently about anything and everything. And many more of the players have been coming forward with their own stories after years of suffering quietly because they were finally encouraged to do so after realizing that they weren’t suffering alone.
Being a small part of this paradigm shift has been a real honor: I’ve met some incredible people and made some new friends along the way. Of course, I’ve also been told by a few that I have no dog in the game and not even being a fan makes me the ultimate outsider, undeserving of even so much as the “privilege” of carrying someone’s jockstrap. To those long worn-out arguments: I continue to point out that not a single juror, lawyer nor even the judge in the recent Players Inc. lawsuit was a retired football player. And that was how the suit was actually won. And I’ve had it pointed out to me that there have even been a few retired football players who have gone on to become Congressmen and Senators; I ask just how many of THEM have actually stood up and proposed legislation or initiated investigations into the egregious abuse that continues today?
With 2010 coming to a close, I’ve been working on a list of some of the things that I’ve observed and learned so far. This is a list of random observations over the years and not in any particular order. And they’re based on my personal observations and opinions and no one else’s. If I’m wrong or off the mark, please feel free to let me know. As always, I’m eager to continue to learn more. That said, some days I wake up and wonder if I’ll also eventually grow cynical one of these days; just when you think you’ve seen some of the worst things men can do to other men for the sake of greed and power, another heart-wrenching personal story comes in.
With that, here’s my yearend list so far:
How Football Works 101
- Riddell has been the primary supplier of football helmets to the NFL for decades and have continued in that capacity as a direct result of their sponsorship arrangements with the League (yes, they pay a licensing fee for the privilege of declaring themselves the Official Helmet of the NFL). I don’t know any other industry where a safety equipment supplier is selected based on licensing fees instead of safety factors. Would that be like a balloon company being selected as Ford’s official airbag for all of their cars by offering the biggest licensing fee?
- Neurologists have been well aware of the long-term effects of concussions since the early 1900′s in spite of the NFL’s official longstanding position that they do not cause any damage at all (at least until early this year when they finally fired Dr. No and threw his shameless MILD Traumatic Brain Injury Committee under the bus);
- Many team doctors also pay – or at least provide free medical services – to their local or favorite teams in return for the prestige of being able to tell their patients that they are an NFL doctor (can anyone spell Superbowl Tickets?);
- The McCaskey family under matriarch Virginia McCaskey still own 80% of the Chicago Bears; the other 20% is owned by her son-in-law Pat Ryan (Chairman/CEO of AON Corp.) and Andy McKenna who both sit on the Bears’ Board of Directors. Son, Michael McCaskey, was also chairman of the Bears’ organization until April 2010 and was CEO of AON Corp., one of the largest insurance companies in America. For years, a subsidiary of AON has been responsible for calculating and providing many of the actuarial numbers on each and every player to the NFL for insurance purposes (by using their access as owners to players’ personal data);
- Gene Upshaw and his minions then used AON’s actuarial calculations that showed most retired players would likely be dead before they were 55 to quietly “advise” many of them to take significantly-reduced pensions early. Many of those same people who helped Upshaw perpetuate this decades-long scam are still working there today;
- Those same actuarial numbers have also been used later by other insurance companies against retired players to turn them down for any insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. But if even major insurance companies are using those statistics as a basis to deny them coverage, then how can the NFL continue to deny the long-term effects of playing professional football?
- Many retired players were also denied their pension or disability benefits based on a nonexistent law which Gene Upshaw and the entire benefits management and approval process perpetuated for decades by declaring that no one could receive both pension and disability benefits at the same time;
- As a direct result of this fake “law” that never existed, even all-time greats like Johnny Unitas were literally defrauded out of their earned disability benefits (and even a lifelong outsider like me knows who Johnny Unitas was);
- The more disability claims that are denied, the more funds are available in the general pool for hiring active players at those ever-escalating salaries. This meant more commissions and fees for superagents like Tom Condon and directly benefited the owners in keeping more to pay for unproven rookies (nudge-nudge-wink-wink);
- Superagent Tom Condon also sat on the Disability Board until finally “retiring” earlier this year;
- Retired players have absolutely no vote whatsoever in the NFLPA, an organization that claims to represent their interests nor do they have any say or vote in how their pension or disability funds are managed or dispersed;
- Until earlier this year, The Groom Law Group wrote the Disability Plan, and represented the plan for both the NFLPA (the Union) AND the NFL (the owners). DeMaurice Smith announced that they were dropping the Groom Law Group at the 2010 Superbowl Press Conference with much fanfare. Nothing has changed since then;
- A large number of retired football players have been forced to fall back on Social Security Disability and Medicare benefits in order have their long-term disability needs covered: Hip replacements, spine surgery, dementia, Alzheimers, etc. And they’re actually getting approved, ultimately placing the cost of care on the general public while allowing an employer to completely avoid the responsibilities and burden of paying for the care of their injured former employees. If General Motors were to ever stop taking responsibility for past harm to their former employees, do you think their Union – the UAW – or the government would allow it? And would the public tolerate it?
- At any given time, psychologists have pointed out that sociopaths make up at least 8 – 10% of our general population; professional football – being the physical and gladiatorial sport that it has always been – tends to appeal and attract an even higher percentage of sociopaths and psychopaths than the norm. We’ve certainly run into a few out there;
- And this is one for the lawyers out there: Many of the cases and applications we’ve written about and discussed here on this blog have been summarily declined or dismissed simply because of the Statute of Limitations and/or because they have missed an arbitrary window or passed the age of 55. However, if the original process was not only flawed but designed to be intentionally illegal or even criminal, then would that mean each and every case that has ever been turned down will qualify to be re-opened? And is it even possible that there’s a criminal case to be made for negligent homicide at the very least with regard to all the retired players who have died so far as a direct result of the NFL and the NFLPA’s coordinated actions in ensuring that their benefits were consistently denied?
There are so many blatant conflicts of interests (many in this list) that every time I discuss one of these new stories with my non-sports friends, the first thing that comes out of their mouths is, “But that’s a conflict of interest!”
The point I’m making is that you don’t have to be a retired football player or a lawyer or even a football fan to see something so obvious.