Bette Schwager: I Will NOT Sign That Release!

Dec 14, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave has been talking with Bette Schwager over the past few weeks about her treatment (or mistreatment) at the hands of the NFLPA and the Players Assistance Trust (PAT). We asked her to write the story in her own words so that our readers can understand just a little of the senseless treatment she and her family have been put through by the NFLPA and their so-called assistance programs this past year. Bette’s husband, Bruce, had played football at the Merchant Marine Academy before being drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in 1955. The Cardinals refused to take him off their reserve list even as he went in to service with the Navy from 1956 – 1958. So Bruce became another one of the pre-’93 players (pre-’72!) who was actually on the roster and vested with enough years but never granted vesting. You can read the full story from Alan Schwarz in his June 2011 New York Times article – click HERE. We’ve also posted a copy of the 2-page Release Letter that the NFLPA tried to get Bette to sign after Bruce passed away before he was to be evicted from his dementia care facility because the NFLPA stopped paying his bill. After you read Bette’s story and the Release Letter, you’ll understand why we’ve been cautioning everyone to be extremely careful of signing anything from these people without close scrutiny and advice.
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Photo: Michael Stravato redux

At this is the time of the year when we all reflect back over our lives during the past year, I’m writing this to help me get past the series of events that changed my life forever.
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My husband’s trials and tribulations have been explored and written about during the last few months of his life. But now, I want to express my own thoughts and describe the events in my words.
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A very wonderful and religious woman met with me during the first part of the year, 2011 — just before things got really bad and she told me,

“At the end of the day, you should look back and reflect to make sure that you did everything you could to do the right things and have no regrets.”
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“Guilt is  wasted energy.”

No regrets! Well, I guess we’re now going to see if that’s true!
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To make things even more trying, I also had a series of medical problems that plagued me during 2009 through 2011. Many visits to doctors and as many visits to the hospital. I had to be well, I had to be strong, I had to handle all the stress of finances, selling our house, and moving to a tiny rental to be near my husband, Bruce.
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Life for the 8 to 10 years prior to June, 2009 was a  constant battle trying to keep the lid on. Just about all the spouses with husbands with memory and brain illnesses will attest to having gone through the same thing. However, the difference when meeting and listening to wives of players with the same problems, the situation seemed somewhat larger, probably due to their husbands’ size and strength. The anger, personality changes, money handling and overall family togetherness was a disaster. It was just easier to lie, to avoid, to make excuses and generally melt into the woodwork rather than confront the situation with outsiders.
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If it wasn’t for a few close friends, I would never have made it. I found that it’s not so much fun going to bed in a separate room — with the door locked and your favorite Louisville slugger in bed with you!
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In June of 2009, I was told that Bruce could no longer be in a normal setting and had to be confined after being  diagnosed with terminal brain and heart problems. My mind was spinning out of control. Not only to have my fears confirmed and his behavior validated but now what? How does anyone know what to do and how would we make this happen?
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From years of hiding, I was instantly thrown into a crazy mix of doctors, social workers, hospice administrators, 24-hour care providers and sales people. Like a parade, these folks came in and out all day pushing for a decision. I didn’t know anyone facing this giant task and had to believe what I was being told by many professional people who – surprise surprise – had their own agendas and not our best interest at heart.
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My son, Josh, was there with me during those weeks and was a great help trying to sort out the details under the great pressure of the hospital wanting us OUT OF THERE — NOW! At the time, we didn’t understand how devious the hospital could be in trying to get this done. Josh took matters into his own hands and called Andre Collins, Director of Retired Players with the NFLPA. I was not sure what would happen as we had spent 3 years trying to get Bruce his pension and were consistently turned down (without any valid reason or merit) several times.
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To our surprise, Andre along with the Players Trust decided to take care of Bruce at a facility that they had a contract with. We had a choice of 2 places. We chose Silverado Senior Care Home. Silverado was especially designed for residents with memory-related illnesses. Andre did not give us any restrictions, any price guidelines or length of time for the care. Andre stressed that they would be there for Bruce and our family. They told us that THEY WERE THERE FOR THE LONG HAUL. PERIOD. WE WERE NOT TO WORRY ALL WOULD BE TAKEN CARE OF. The contract was between the NFLPA, the Players Trust and Silverado. We were not even privy to the cost of this care. Andre explained that there was millions of dollars from the TV money earmarked for just this type of situation and that he had to go and find players to give this to.
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Bruce Schwager 1933 - 2011


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At some point I was having trouble paying bills and I applied for a Grant from the Trust and was approved. I sent bills to Andre and they would pay them. Unfortunately unbeknownst to me, the bills were paid late or missed altogether and during the winter of 2009, my electricity and gas were turned off and I experienced another very unpleasant situation. Finally, Andre cut off the money ( I never figured out the amount that was paid) and that was the end of the Grant. NOTE: I had NEVER been asked to sign anything to get this grant.
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For 2009 till March of 2011, things fell into a routine of sorts. All problems became mine, all decisions became mine and I tried to handle things one day at a time. I would spend 3 to 4 hours a day with Bruce and when I left I was too spent to do much else.
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Then on March 14, the Monday night after the Lockout officially started, the other shoe dropped. I was in the middle of getting blood transfusions when Josh called to tell me that Andre had called him. Josh said that Andre informed him that Bruce had reached his maximum benefit amount and they were going to stop paying for his medical expenses. After a conference call with Andre, my family, and various staff at Silverado, we were given approximately 4 weeks at which point the NFLPA would no longer assume financial responsibility for Bruce’s medical expenses.
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OMG!  I discharged myself and the worst 2 months of my life started. Worried, scared, paralyzed with the thought of what lay ahead and not feeling well, we begged Andre to change his mind. He did all he could to try and get the responsible parties at the NFLPA and Players Trust to change their minds. However, they refused to do so.
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You can see from the date this happened that the LOCKOUT was about to kick in. We were going to become the first victims of the lockout. How can this group who pride themselves on being for the disabled and retired player regardless of vesting do such a thing?
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Two weeks — impossible — unrealistic – -just plain not do-able. We couldn’t even find a home that would take someone who was at the end of his life and needed so much care. Seems weird since that was the business they were in but when you have no money, they rule and the “They” is the government. Oh, yes – ‘There’s Medicaid,’ as I was told over and over by well-meaning friends and family. But just try to get it when you need it! Ha!
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With no options left, we managed to reach out to Cy Smith, a well-known lawyer for players and he took on our case. He worked tirelessly to get a workable solution to keep Bruce from being evicted from Silverado. However, the NFLPA and Trust could care less. Just think about this: For almost 2 years, they never questioned anything. Never a hint of the PA and the TRUST being out of money. Never a word that we had used up our allotted amount of money and TIME. Bruce had simply lived too long as they told us. Guess G-d took too long to take him. But really, at the bottom of all this was the LOCKOUT — and the NFLPA’s gravy train was now in jeopardy. They can say anything they want; that was the bottom line, plain and simple.
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During those months, my health worsened but there was nothing that I could do about it. Every day brought more calls, emails, letters between us and the lawyers and the PA and also the press. Daily calls to area homes and traveling some 40 or more miles a day to visit places.
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I had to be on top of everything and all the while I was told that the clock was ticking, time was going by and decisions had to be made or else. The or-else was that an ambulance would come and take Bruce and drop him off at the nearest hospital or my 700 sq. ft. apartment! That day was to be in the beginning of July.  Meanwhile, the daily charges were being calculated and that amount was supposedly mine to pay.
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I don’t know if anyone ever realized my angst, anger and mental state during those weeks but I hope that no one else will ever have to go through what I’ve gone through!
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On June 15, 2011 – the day before my birthday - I came over to see Bruce early. I had so much to do, calls to make and personal visits to several homes. I didn’t understand why I felt compelled to visit early? Perhaps it was that the Times article had come out and I wanted to show Bruce the paper and see if he would even understand the fact that he was in the paper, surely not the content. At that time, the only thing that he related to was the NFL channel that he watched all day and night on his TV.
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At the precise minute that I walked over to his bed — he had a strange expression in his eyes as he stared at me for what seemed forever and within seconds, he started to go into something that I had never seen happen before. It was as if he knew and wanted to spare me the agony that had been the last 2 months. He lasted five more horrible and painful days, a fighter until the very end. And then he was gone. Just days remaining to the ultimate injustice and loss of divinity that would have been his end!
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I had no time to reflect, to think or even to mourn. In 24 hours, he was put to his final rest. Not a word from Andre, the PA or the Trust. Not even so much as a card. After all I was put through needlessly, wrongfully and painfully, I was not even worthy of a card.
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I was taken directly from the funeral to the hospital again for more transfusions. Since that hospital stay, I have worked on getting back on my feet. At 71, I now find myself working a full-time job and trying to get a life.
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To answer my first comments, I have no regrets as to trying to do all I could for my husband. But as far as the NFLPA and Trust, that’s a different story. Through our lawyer, they advised me to apply for another Grant. This was their way of making amends? So needing money to pay the bills of the last months, I applied.
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But this time the Grant came with strings. First, they approved the Grant but would only give me part of the money. Then they wanted to pay the charges for the home out of the Grant. Can you imagine how wonderful that would look to everyone? In the end, the benevolent NFLPA pays for Mr. Schwager’s final charges. But the best part is that they wanted me and my son on behalf of everyone – EVERYONE – to release them from anything and everything else from now and in perpetuity for the paltry sum of the balance after the payment they would make to Silverado.
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Yes, if I took that money at this time I would have regrets. I would be stooping lower than they have gone. I would be turning from all my values for a few dollars. Shame on them for putting someone’s back up against a wall and telling them, “If you want it, sign this.” Nope – some day they will answer for all those that they have taken advantage of. For putting people second, especially the men who made the game great and the ones who keep it great!
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As for me:
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Like I’ve been saying all along: I WILL NOT SIGN THAT RELEASE!
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Bette Schwager
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We’ve uploaded a copy of the 2-page release letter to Scribd for easy viewing and to make it downloadable for printing. This is what the NFLPA had sent to Bette Schwager after Bruce passed away. You can also click the Enlarge icon in the center of the menu at the bottom of the viewing screen to go Full Screen for easier reading (and just hit the ESC key to close):
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NFLPA Release Letter to Bette Schwager
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2 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Pear
    December 14th, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Dave Pear

    Once again, another example of not just signing anything the NFLPA – or anybody for that matter – puts in front of you.

    Remember the GLA (Group Licensing Agreement) in the Players Inc. scandal that over 2,000 retired players signed? They didn’t pay us one penny while the NFLPA stole our images and stats in the Madden video games while the union made millions and John Madden made over $150,000,000 (yes – that’s One Hundred and Fifty MILLION)! The NFLPA was convicted in Federal Court of Breach of Duty and Breach of Contract and ordered to pay $28,100,000 in damages.

    Nobody from the union was even fired – in fact they have all received raises and DeMaurice is looking at a possible $1 million bonus.

    Attorney Ron Katz said the language in the courts that jurors found the union to be guilty of included such phrases as “malicious and oppressive with evil motive,” and “conduct that was outrageous and grossly fraudulent.” (Thanks again, Ron, for this victory for over 2,000 retired players!)

    I wonder what real unions in the AFL-CIO think about this because the NFLPA claims to be a member and even writes: “Affiliate of Federation of Professional Athletes, AFL-CIO” on the front of our NFL Players Association card?

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Regards,
    Dave & Heidi Pear

  2. Tom Beer
    December 19th, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Tom Beer

    Dave-

    So sorry to read Bette Schwager’s sad, first-person narrative of her nightmarish treatment by the NFLPA, especially a week before the holiday season. Unfortunately, Bette didn’t understand the history of the NFLPA versus the ever-present thorn in their side, the retired NFL rank-and-file.

    From the late Gene Upshaw’s mantra that he doesn’t work for retired players to the GLA scandal to our persona non grata status with the NFLPA for select pre- 93′ NFL Hall-of-Famers requesting a voice in CBA negotiations pertaining to our proposed Legacy Fund benefits. They probably didn’t want to explain why they turned down the NFL Management team’s proposal of enhancing vested pre 93′ retirees pension by $2000 per month.

    It’s difficult getting answers when you have zero representation.

    Tom Beer
    Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
    1967 – 1973

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