Evan Weiner: Jets’ Marty Lyons: Retired Players Need Health Benefits NOW

May 19, 2011

Posted with the express consent of Evan Weiner:

THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
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Former New York Jets great Marty Lyons says retired players need health benefits now
Thursday, 19 May 2011
BY EVAN WEINER
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
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THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
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lyonsMarty0518111_optNEW YORK. N.Y. — In October 1987, New York Jets defensive lineman Marty Lyons decided to cross a picket line and play football because he didn’t like the way National Football League Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw was conducting the association’s business. The NFLPA went on strike looking for a liberalized form of free agency and more money. The NFLPA didn’t bother asking for after-career lifetime health benefits.
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Lyons has never looked back at his decision to cross the picket line and in hindsight thinks the 1987 four-week strike was a waste of time.
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“I don’t worry about it, I got more important things to do than worry about a labor dispute, worry about a lockout” said Lyons on Tuesday at the announcement that he was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame. “I got four kids, I try to be the best father, best husband that I can to them. Whatever happens in this dispute, they will settle it.
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“If it is going to help the league, if it is going to help the players, if it is going to subsidize our retirement a little bit better. Great. If it doesn’t, I can’t worry about things I can’t control. I am interested. I am still an NFL alumnus, I still believe in what the players are trying to accomplish but I cannot control it. If you can’t control it, why get stressed out about it? I support (former Giants’ defensive lineman) George Martin and the NFL alumni. I was just at the NFL Draft with (Commissioner) Roger Goodell. I do a lot of work for the Jets. I see the issues on both sides of the fence. But I can’t control any of it, so you know what, I get every morning and I go to work.”
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But Lyons is interested in the welfare of his former teammates and others who played in the NFL and thinks the old players need some help.
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“Eighty-seven, it was very difficult,” he said the of labor action. “I think there was a lot of dissension between the players and the leadership we had in Gene Upshaw. When the replacement teams can in, some of us made the decision that it was in our best interests and our families’ best interests allow to let these people to come in and take our jobs.”
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Neither the 1982 nor the 1987 NFLPA strikes, in the long term, helped the membership. The “Money Now” mantra of the players should have been replaced by “what will your life at the age of 45, 50, 55 and 60 be like?” The players seem to have the same problems today as they did in 1982 with the exception of having more money than those who played 29 and 24 years ago.
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“Probably not,” said Lyons of whether the two strikes helped those players involved in the long run. “You know, I think the issues from 87 to where we are now maybe get magnified a little bit more because there is more money involved. Any time that there is money involved and the issues are back and forth, I don’t know who wins. Because you got the owners, because they want a little more money, you got the players… I see guys like Kevin Turner, a good friend of mine who played at the University of Alabama suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
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“A lot of head injuries.
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“He is 41 years old, 42 years old with three kids. What’s the NFL going to do for him? What’s his pension going to do for him and his family? He’s just fighting every day to stay alive.
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“There’s another head injury.”
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The National Football League does not acknowledge that head injuries may cause health problems down the line. In 2010, the league posted a warning about head injuries in each of the 32 team’s locker rooms but other than a few words and some other forms of communications, players still are getting their bells rung and returning to the field as quickly as possible.
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“You didn’t worry about them (head injuries), you really didn’t worry about injuries,” said Lyons of his attitude and the attitude of his NFL playing peers during his time in the league in the 1980s. “Because the bottom line is, if you allowed somebody to come in and take your position, you may not get it back. So there was a big difference, everybody played hurt. If you were injured, it was a different story.”
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Lyons former coach Walt Michaels and former Sack Exchange teammate Joe Klecko are hurting like many others who played in the NFL.
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“If you see Walt now as he walks around, if you see Joe Klecko, he just had a shoulder replacement. The game does have a price to pay if you play it long enough. And I think man-for-man, the individuals that are playing the price now – myself I had eight operations – I would have gone through a few more if I had an opportunity to lace them up and play one more game. It is well worth the price now to get out of bed.”
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Lyons is doing well. He is a senior vice president of operations for a Long Island construction company. The Marty Lyons Foundation is still going strong after 27 years helping terminally ill children. He is a motivational speaker and has 20 years of broadcasting on his resume.
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But Lyons knows that former NFL players need help.
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“I would love to see the league and the committee (the players association or more correctly what is the decertified players association) come to some sort of agreement that if you are a vested player (three or more years experience) and you leave the game, you have a lifetime benefit of health benefits. When you retire, your benefits stop (the post-1993 players get health benefits for five years and then it ends, Lyons career was done in 1989 after 11 years). You better hope you get a good job or have enough money to go on COBRA. So I think health benefits are the number one priority that we should be looking at to get for retired players once they leave the NFL.
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“If you are vested and you make a contribution to helping the league and the players then you and your family should have lifetime health benefits. When I left the game in 1991, I had to get my health benefits. In hindsight, I think it was a mistake (that the NFLPA did not fight for lifetime health care) because some of the players who are financially stressed or some of the players now who don’t have health benefits maybe they would not be in this situation in their life and the time of the life if they had better benefits, better health care. Maybe they would have gotten the proper help needed.”
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Lyons, despite an 11 year career, never made big money that could last a lifetime. The “billionaires versus millionaires” slogan that sportswriters have attached to this lockout doesn’t work. Very few players make huge sums of cash. Most careers are brief and players need to find other employment after their careers. But the problem is that NFL players might have short careers but their aches and pains last a lifetime and some become disabled and cannot work. Those players eventually end up on social security insurance and Medicare and are looked after by taxpayers.
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That is where Upshaw and his associates which include members of the NFLPA executive board and player agents failed their constituency in 1982, 1987 and 1993. They took short term gains and didn’t see the future.
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Lyons looks at the dispute as a former player but notes that other people are getting hurt. NFL teams have been laying off or reducing employee’s salaries. Coaches are taking a pay cut and if games are missed per diem employees will be left out in the cold.
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“Everybody wants a little bit more of the pie,” he said. “And the bottom line is that the people at the bottom end of the food chain that are going to pay the price if they don’t play the game of football. You got a lot of people that are relying on that added income every single Saturday or Sunday whether they are parking cars or working concessions or working the stadium. For them not to have an opportunity to feed their family when there is a lockout or labor dispute, it is a shame.”
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NFL owners and players go to court on June 3 to argue over whatever they are fighting for. Collective bargaining agreement negotiations pick up on June 8. The players want status quo and keep 59 percent of football revenues, the owners want the players to give back revenues, cut their salaries (contracts are not guaranteed) and help build stadiums in Minnesota and Santa Clara, California by kicking in part of their revenues. Meanwhile former players are still out in the cold with meager pensions and no health benefits and for many football players, getting health insurance is almost impossible because of pre-existing conditions.
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This is the NFL, with the initials NFL standing for, Not For Long.
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Evan Weiner

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.com or amazonkindle.
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8 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dan Bunz
    May 19th, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Dan Bunz

    YES. Being an NFL vet, the need for medical benifits plus disability is most important to all vets.

    Next would be retirement pay that is at least equal to Baseball and even Basketball – and start receiving it at 55 years of age like all other major sports. IT’S NOT ALL THAT HARD TO BE FAIR.

    Dan Bunz
    San Francisco 49ers & Detroit Lions
    1978 – 1985

  2. Larry Kaminski
    May 19th, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Larry Kaminski

    Dave,

    I hope all is well and I’m glad you were part of the latest meetings held in regards to solidarity.

    The purpose of this communication concerns the owners’ latest offer of LTC for free. I just had my interview with the LTC examiner sent by Trans America. I find it interesting that the questions asked are the same questions that I have answered in the past – and was denied – for LTC, Life Insurance and Medical insurance. Again, the NFL throws out another scam. We simply can’t be lumped into the general population. My health concerns and needs are due to football injuries, bad treatment, and the dispensing of illegal drugs and even bad drugs (e.g. – Darvon).

    I’m anxious to see if I will be denied like I was by the NFL for disability.

    When does it stop?

    Thanks. And good luck keeping the pressure on these greedy monarchs.

    Larry K.
    Denver Broncos
    1966 – 1973

  3. Bob Asher
    May 19th, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Bob Asher

    Evan and Marty…

    Many thanks for your comments on ‘Retired Players Need Health Care Benefits Now’. It seems obvious to everyone that the liability for the physical rehabilitation of retired athletes is the responsibility of the NFL owners, not the players and/or the community. I recently had a back disc replacement in which the cost was staggering. After the bolts were removed (a second surgery), it became apparent to me that Congress doesn’t understand the beating players have taken and the gift they have given the NFL owners by exempting them from this liability. My company picked up the tab through their (self-insured) medical plan; however, I was embarrassed that they had to pay for it.

    What can retired players do? We certainly aren’t the millionaires-versus-billionaires you mentioned. We’re working stiffs who will probably will die before we see any meaningful health care benefits.

    Bob Asher
    Dallas Cowboys Chicago Bears
    1970 – 1976

  4. George Visger
    May 19th, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    George Visger

    That three-year vesting period for a business which is based on employee violence is ridiculous. The NFL is the only industry I know of where years of an average “career” can be counted on one hand, minus the thumb and half-the-pinky.

    What about players who may have played long enough to be vested, but whose “career” was cut short by a life-altering injury? Should they be penalized for being injured too severely to return to action? Should they and their families be on the hook for the rest of their lives for injuries suffered while fulfilling their required tasks?

    The NFL should be held to the same standards as any other industry. If an employee is severely injured in the course of fulfilling his required tasks for that employment, he should be compensated for such injuries and receive lifetime medical benefits to treat those industry-caused injuries.

    I do not profess to be an expert in liability or Workers Compensation in all states but I do know something about California’s laws. We are not asking for anything that any other employment doesn’t offer. Vocational Rehabilitation and lifetime medical benefits for injuries which end your “career.”

    George Visger
    San Francisco 49ers 1980 & 1981
    Winner of Workers Comp claim in 1986
    Graduate of Vocational Rehabilation

  5. Bob Avellini
    May 20th, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Bob Avellini

    Marty, well said. Thanks for summarizing 3 decades worth of Players-versus-League, and Players-versus-Union conflicts.

    Bob Avellini
    Chicago Bears
    1975 – 1984

  6. Greed of NFL Owners AND Players Hurts Former Players
    May 23rd, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    [...] Weiner does a nice job describing the “money-now-at-all-costs” mindset of both owners and players in the current labor [...]

  7. Michael C. McCoy
    May 26th, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    Mike C. McCoy

    Michael has just had a revision of a knee he had replaced 9 years ago. The “Joint Replacement Program” would not help with any expenses. According to the surgeon, his knee looked as if his muscles were just hamburger meat holding things together and if it hadn’t been checked when we set up the appointment, his tibula would have shattered.

    Once again, another fail short of a “benefit” that could not be used for a player who is on total disability.

    Janet McCoy
    for Mike McCoy
    Green Bay Packers
    1976 – 1983

  8. Mike davis
    June 9th, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Mike Davis Block

    My comments on the Marty Lyons article.

    Number one: Marty makes some good points. But which side of his mouth do you listen to?

    No one – and I believe NO ONE – felt or thought any replacement player coming in during the 1987 strike was going to take a true NFL players job. That was proven out by no one in the stands and TV getting egg on their face.

    Point two: He crossed the picket line, as well as some others. Had he and the others not crossed who knows what could have happened at the bargaining table. If he and the others who crossed had stood united instead, perhaps the things he talked about could have been a jump start to better benefits, pension etc. You can best believe the Management Council and the NFL were watching and counting players crossing the line. Just like today.

    Yes, a deal will get done. Perhaps the most biggest deal in our lifetimes. Too much is riding on the birth of the NFL. That’s you and me, Gentlemen. The NFL knows without a doubt they must take care of past players; the NFLPA knows without a doubt they must take care of past players. Something they have supposedly committed to do.

    Marty, I wish you well and enjoyed the times we got to know each other. But stop talking out of both sides of your mouth. You can only believe in one thing – your true feelings.

    Mike Davis
    Oakland Raiders
    1977 – 1987

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