John Hogan: An Open Letter to the NFL & Retired Players Regarding the Alumni

Feb 23, 2012

We have recently read the expose of George Martin and the NFL Alumni Association written by A. J. Perez and Alex Marvez for FOX Sports. We have also read the accounts of the Alumni’s press conference from the Super Bowl; and of their Board of Directors’ support for George Martin.
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I am not a former player and often wonder why and how I got involved in their issues. However, getting to know – and work with – many retired players over the past few years has been a personal and professional highlight of my life and career. I am proud to call many retired players my friends and most of them are a tremendous source of inspiration for me.
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That said, I have thought that I have had something worthwhile to contribute to the cause of retired players and their families – specifically my expertise in disability law. And it is with those thoughts in mind that I became actively involved in helping the NFL Alumni transition from Caring for Kids to a role as the primary advocate for the needs of retired players, their families and their widows.
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You will recall that several years ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell visited several cities to meet with RETIRED PLAYERS ONLY to try to learn what was on their minds. Many of you will recall that Dr. Eleanor Perfetto was not allowed to attend a meeting on behalf of her husband, Ralph Wenzel, who suffers from dementia. You may also recall that I was allowed into the meeting in Dallas – but not allowed to speak. I was very skeptical about what Commissioner Goodell and the NFL were up to.
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Not long after, I got a call from Bruce Laird, President of Fourth and Goal – one of the first retired player advocacy organizations who were raising money on behalf of – and advocating for – retired players. He told me that Goodell had called him and asked if Fourth and Goal would work with the NFL Alumni to refocus their efforts towards retired players and become one unified and representative advocacy organization. As we envisioned it, we would have one truly representative group that would speak on behalf of retired players’ issues – from intellectual property rights to significant pension improvements and much needed disability reform – with both the League and the Union.
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It was a tremendous effort on the part of many men to establish the new Alumni Association and hire George Martin as their executive director. Many of us involved in the effort took a lot of heat from all sides. The PA would not have anything to do with this, as they felt (as many others did) that this was a ploy by the NFL to curry favor with retired players as the League and Union moved towards the new CBA. While the men of the PA had little regard for what I had to say about needed disability reforms (which would only have served to help their members), I continued on, hoping that I would have the opportunity to discuss cases, problems, ideas and solutions with the League or various owners. I pressed on, hoping that Bruce Laird, Jeff Nixon and others well-versed in the pension plan, the CBA and all issues facing retired players, would also have the chance to meet face-to-face with the CBA decision makers.
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It never happened.
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Fast forward to where we are today – a CBA that did not come close to adequately addressing the needs of retired players. As all of you know, those failings are the subject of a lawsuit pending in Minnesota against the Union. While the League and Union think they have a 10-year period of “labor peace” to look forward to, they will clearly be kept busy by retired players who continue to feel left out, bruised and abused – in light of what they did to make the game what it is today and in light of the almost unimaginable amount of money the NFL is now generating.
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The Legacy Fund (anyone get their checks yet?) is but a drop in the bucket of what was needed. The League and Union are now scrambling to decide what to do about the disaster of leaving widows out of the picture.
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Which brings me back to the Alumni Association. What have they done for retired players and their families? Were they a significant role-player in the CBA as we had hoped? Are retired players happy with what they are doing? Has the membership grown or decreased since George Martin was hired? (We hear from a former employee that membership was down significantly but we really don’t know.) I do know that there are a number of NFL cities where there is no longer an Alumni chapter – including here in Atlanta – where there are between 700 and 800 retired players.
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The Alumni has had three major programs – all highly touted: the Satcher Leadership Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine and their mental health awareness program; their partnership with the Gay Culverhouse Player Outreach Program; and the Long-Term Care Insurance program. All of them great, helpful programs. But they weren’t really the Alumni’s – they were the League’s and the Alumni’s role in them appears to be little more than lip-service.
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I am sure that Commissioner Goodell and the League expected the Alumni to be self-sustaining by now. At least when we started down this path, that is what those of us at Fourth and Goal had expected. To the best of my knowledge, they are not. They have been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in “interest-free loans” from the League.
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The point of this letter is that at this point in time, I don’t think it really matters what I think of the Alumni or George Martin’s leadership. I don’t think it really matters what the majority of retired players think about them. And although the Board of Directors is supposed to be in charge, I don’t think it really matters what they think, or how much confidence they have in George Martin and the Alumni’s direction.
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The only one who really matters is Roger Goodell. Is he willing to continue to invest multiple millions of dollars to try to prop them up on their feet – or is it time to close the checkbook and see if they can stand on their own feet?
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John Hogan
Disability Attorney
Retired Player Advocate
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9 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Costa
    February 23rd, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    Dave Costa

    Hi all,

    Speaking of the Legacy Fund, has anyone who is receiving disability gotten their second set of papers or money yet?!!

    Thanks,
    Dave Costa
    Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills
    Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers
    1963 – 1974

  2. Fred Anderson
    February 23rd, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    Fred Anderson

    Dave,

    One morning recently when I was working from my home, I received a call from the NFL Alumni Association wanting to know why I hadn’t renewed my membership with the Alumni.

    Question: Is this their new membership recruitment method to contact players in this fashion or is there something else going on?

    Fred Anderson
    Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks
    1978 – 1982

  3. Conad Dobler
    February 24th, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Conrad Dobler

    To Whom It May Concern,

    While working with the NFL Alumni Chapter in Kansas City for the last 20 years, I became involved in all of the purchasing of tee prizes for our annual gold tournament. Upon George Martin becoming head of the NFL Alumni and having control of the NFL Alumni Shield we were informed that we could not use our merchandise vendor of choice which has been our vendor for the last 20 years. We were allowed to buy from him but would not be able to use the NFL Alumni logo on any of his products. We were instructed to only buy for a group vendor endorsed by George Martin and the Corporate NFL Alumni. After 20 years with our local vendor and excellent products delivered to us, we had no choice but to throw him under the bus. I asked the question, “Why was not this bid let our to each chapter and their local vendors?” These people who have supported us for the last 20 years were not even afforded the opportunity to bid on supplying the thousands of hats, shirts, etc. They may not have won the bid but at least they should have been given a fair chance.

    Instead, we had to buy from George Martin’s hand-picked vendor. The products we received were not even of the quality our paying participants were accustomed to receiving and the price we had to pay was 25% to 50% higher than in the past years! Less money for the charity but more money for the NFL Alumni. We were forced into this situation by the NFL Alumni withholding the NFL Alumni logo to be used by each local chapter. I am sure if this was put out to bid to all of the local chapters, the price would have been lower and the quality would have been better. This just smacks of insider trading. This is not what I had in mind when deciding to join the golf committee. All chapters were forced to take their loyal vendors and say thanks to them for 20 years of great service and great prices but your service is no longer necessary.

    Not only were we restricted with where we could buy our products at a higher cost but the amount we had to pay the NFL Alumni was increased. We do this for the local charities and they donate a lot of manpower to help us put on a first class tournament with first class gifts. I believe that in the end, we’ll lose many of our paying participants along with our corporate sponsors and the support we receive form the local charities. This has placed all of the local chapters into a difficult position.

    And we wonder why the NFL Alumni needs to borrow extra funds from the NFL? Where is all this additional revenue going? I am sure that knowing what I know about the cost of the products we have been buying for the last 20 years, the NFL Alumni corporate is receiving their pound of flesh from their national suppliers. Again: Where is the money going? Maybe the NFLPA should be giving part of their $20 million per year earmarked for NFLPA charities to the NFL Alumni so we can continue to provide first class golf tournaments and continue to support our local charities in a first class fashion.

    Question: Is the NFL Alumni Corporate vendor associated with George Martin and/or a family member? Something to think about. I, along with other members of the Kansas City chapter. did not join to help to enrich members of the NFL Alumni Corporate office. Why were we not involved in choosing the national vendors or given the chance to recommend our own vendors for the bidding process? This is not the transparency we were offered when George Martin took over.

    If this continues, the NFL Alumni will be bankrupt. But I suppose at least we’ll have someone in place who is knowledgeable with the bankruptcy laws leading us…

    Conrad Dobler
    St. Louis Cardinals, New Orleans Saints
    Buffalo Bills
    1972 – 1981

  4. Dave Pear
    February 24th, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    Dave Pear

    Commissioner Goodell,

    I hope this off season finds you well and enjoying your new $20,000,000 annual salary (plus Super Bowl tickets and who-knows-what or how many other lucrative benefits). But I do have a few questions:

    How could any real job search firm (in their right mind) hire an individual who has filed bankruptcy THREE times in 15 years? Is that some kind of a new record? Or was that actually part of the criteria for being given this puppet position?

    Another question:

    First, this is WEBSTER’S II New Riverside University definition of Nepotism: Favoritism shown by persons in high office to relatives or close friends, esp. in granting jobs.

    My Question: Is it illegal or a violation of IRS code to practice nepotism by the President of a non-profit 501 (c)(3)? Certainly by anyone’s standards (even the NFL spin doctors), isn’t this activity unethical? Or even criminal? George Martin did learn from the very best – his best friend, Gene Upshaw.

    So now maybe the NFL is now going to follow the NFLPA and name the NFL Alumni building, 1) MARTIN PLACE, 2) Give his family and friends more millions of dollars to split up and 3) Rename the NFL Alumni Dire Need Fund the GEORGE MARTIN DIRE NEED FUND (pun intended!)?

    Roger, say it ain’t so.

    Here in Washington State, a police officer recently lost his job for embezzling funds from a non-profit 501 (c)(3) set up to help his fellow downed officers’ families and he now faces a possible 20 years in a Federal prison for his felonious crimes.

    The NFL Alumni Board of Directors claimed to have taken Honest George out to the woodshed for this misconduct. What exactly does that mean? Did they roast marshmallows?

    And finally, it’s a now becoming an embarrassing and well-known fact that George has already squandered or given away – to himself, numerous family members and certainly friends – almost $5,000,000 that he has received from the NFL to date. In my humble opinion, it would not be prudent to give him one penny more. Whether he begs for 1 cent, 5 cents or even if he has the audacity to ask for another $5,000,000, he’s shown himself – and by association, his entire Board – to be completely unqualified to manage it. Just look at his track record. He’s proven himself unable to manage his own finances beyond any reasonable doubt so how could he possible manage the finances of retired players who don’t have access to the same cookie jar he does?

    It’s a case of the blind leading the blind.

    Please feel free to respond!

    BTW: What about the disability debacle in the NFL? Disability expert for 35 years Mr. John Hogan has stated numerous times that the Bell/Rozelle disability plan is illegal and violates ERISA Law. Do you think this illegal activity will come out in the upcoming mass action law suits against the NFL, Riddell and NFL Properties on the current concussion coverup on brain damage? Remember the tobacco lawsuits. And why is George afraid to even mention disability? It really doesn’t matter how money-losing golf tournaments that the NFL Alumni puts together (that continue to lose NFL money); golf tournaments don’t address this ongoing disability debacle that continues to be especially harsh for the pre-1993 players.

    Regards,
    Dave & Heidi Pear

  5. John Hogan: An Open Letter to the NFL & Retired Players …
    February 24th, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    [...] Read this article: John Hogan: An Open Letter to the NFL & Retired Players … [...]

  6. Burt Grossman
    February 24th, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Burt Grossman

    Another week has passed, no second set of papers for the Legacy Fund.

    Put in another three calls this week to Cynthia at the benefits office and still have yet to receive a single call back in over 2-1/2 months with at least 20 calls and messages.

    Can someone tell me why this woman gets a paycheck?

    Burt Grossman
    San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles
    1989 -1994

  7. John Beasley
    February 24th, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    John Beasley

    Like most of you, I got fed up with no returned phone calls from the plan office as to my second round of paperwork (the Election Form) for my Legacy Fund qualification. So I wrote the plan a formal written letter of demand and mailed it Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. Within one week, I received – by Express Mail from the plan office – my Election Form all filled out for me!

    I made my election, signed it, attached the addendum suggested by Bob Stein and other attorneys and mailed it back to the plan office, also by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. If anyone would like a copy of my demand letter to use as an example please feel free to contact me through Dave’s Blog and I will send a copy out to you immediately.

    John Beasley
    Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints
    1967 – 1974

  8. Kevin Bakko
    February 24th, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Kevin Bakko

    If I may, I’d like to address several points made – not in Mr. Hogan’s article, but rather – in various replies to the same.

    Conrad, I’ve been involved in and been a local board member of the Houston chapter since its reconstitution four years ago. In that time we’ve held three golf tournaments (one was disrupted by Hurricane Ike). In that time we’ve used more than a dozen different vendors and had the NFL Alumni shield printed, embroidered or silk-screened onto various tournament-related items, and we were never once required to use any vendor at the insistence of HQ.

    We did however, have to follow proper procedure and submit a sample of the vendor’s reproduction of the shield to ensure it met the organization’s minimum standards. This practice makes good business sense and ensures the integrity of the image on the final product. That having been said, because we once attempted to “marry” the shield with our beneficiaries’ logo, we did have to seek and obtain permission from the League (not NFLA) before doing so.

    The charity, “Be An Angel,” had a halo in its logo and we attempted to obtain permission for the edge of the halo to sweep behind the top corner of the shield. The League (not NFL Alumni) summarily dismissed this effort because the two logos “touched.” Never mind that the NFL’s own shield more than touches the Komen breast cancer organization’s Pink Ribbon; we were not afforded the same respect. (See “Goose v. Gander” for further clarification.)

    Dave, while its not unusual for people not familiar with bankruptcy or bankruptcy laws to do so, you fell into the trap of accepting the Fox story’s premise that George Martin filed bankruptcy three times in fifteen years. This did not and could not have happened for one simple reason. The law prohibits the filing bankruptcy more than once within specific time frames.

    The Fox story in question stated, “According to documents and federal tax records obtained by FOXSports.com, Martin has filed for two Chapter 11 reorganizations and one Chapter 7 liquidation since 1996. The most recent case was not closed until 2005.”

    To the uninformed, this “looks like” three separate financial failures on the part of George Martin. Knowing him as I do – and having thirty years of credit/collection expertise under my belt – I called and spoke with Martin after the story broke and confirmed for myself what I was certain had actually been the case. Martin filed initially Chapter 11 because he felt obligated to, wanted to repay, his creditors. Sadly, his financial circumstances worsened and what was termed as a ‘second filing’ was merely a change in the structure of the original reorganizational plan; again, Martin was doing his best to repay his creditors. Unfortunately, and like many Americans, Martin finally accepted the realization that converting his original bankruptcy case to Chapter 7 was in the best interest of everyone involved. Had he filed Chapter 7 in the first place, there would only be one record. Martin should be applauded, not vilified, for making the effort to repay his creditors as the first two filings certify was his intent.

    One should take caution when trying to paint the picture that someone who has filed bankruptcy can’t, or shouldn’t be allowed to, hold an executive position in an organization. If you choose to do so, don’t ever go to Disneyland. Walt Disney filed bankruptcy before building his empire; as did Donald Trump! Abraham Lincoln overcame a bankruptcy filed in 1833 to hold the highest executive office in this country; as did Ulysses S. Grant and William McKinley.

    Bankruptcy is unfortunate but quite legal and no one enters into it lightly, much like divorce. But while years ago both were considered the sign of a weak character and not done by “good people,” today – particularly in this economy – half of us can easily empathize with George Martin, while the other half of us hold our breath hoping we don’t have to do the same before all is said and done.

    Let’s call it like it is; let’s be blunt. A certain segment of the retired player community will never be satisfied with what’s on the table. They look at the spoiled brats who play the game today, who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars PER GAME, and say it’s unfair. You’re damn right it’s unfair; but what’s fair isn’t always legal, and what’s legal isn’t always fair. In the end, if you played in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s there are few, if any, of the people who worked at NFL-HQ during your tenure who are still around. It’s the people who have long since gone you have your beef with – and rightfully so. Martin and Goodell seem to be the only ones trying to accomplish anything substantive to better the lives of retired players. It was the union that prohibited the NFL Alumni from participating in the CBA discussions.

    As to the Alumni’s financial stability issues, here’s where I see the League assuming the role of “the company store.” The Logo Trust Agreement brokered years ago, long before George came on the scene, was the perfect way for the League to keep us under their financial control. Once the courts ruled the NFL Alumni shield was OUR property, and not the property of the NFL, the League convinced the former Alumni hierarchy to enter into an agreement whereby they paid us a paltry sum of money in exchange for complete control of how OUR shield is to be used. (Refer above to the halo incident as a prime example).

    By coming up with excuse after excuse as to why they would not authorize OUR shield to appear on product endorsements or licensing agreements, the League methodically and systematically set out to ensure our financial survival was dependent upon the NFL. Fortunately, that tide is turning under George Martin’s leadership. Steps are underway to properly asses the value of OUR shield on the open marketplace while at the same time the League is pressuring the Alumni to create a second, “non-competitive” logo for such endeavors. The League knows we can not only stand on our own financially by licensing OUR shield as we see fit, but that we might also take something off of THEIR table in the process. The thought of any revision of OUR shield, or the creation of a “non-competitive logo” should be off the table. If anyone should be forced to change its logo….

    Given the state of the NFL Alumni Association at the time George Martin came aboard, I see more steps having been made forward, than steps backward (and even Martin acknowledges there have been some backward steps). That being said I believe it would be a grievous mistake not to keep Martin at the helm for another term. As an organization I believe there is a lot of work to be done to overcome the problems which have accumulated over the course of the past three, even four decades. I personally have every confidence that Martin is moving in the right direction, but let’s be real. Will the pace of such progress ever be sufficient for everyone?

    Kevin Bakko
    Secretary Treasurer
    NFL Alumni Houston Chapter

  9. RobertinSeattle
    February 26th, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    RobertinSeattle

    Kevin -

    Thanks for taking the time to submit your comments. When there’s a civil discourse and exchange of information, there will always be something that everyone can learn from each other.

    I do want to point out that in everything that’s been mentioned so far, no one has questioned the fact that George Martin is probably a very nice guy with a lot of fans and friends. And while his stature may well have motivated him to run for the position of Executive Director of the NFL Alumni, there has been little to indicate that George is a good businessman or executive manager. And that was the point to John Hogan’s post as you also graciously acknowledged.

    If we focus only on George Martin’s actions in the past two-plus years as Executive Director, his tenure has been marked by one misstep after another, some huge and some not-so-huge. And as much as we would want to forgive a friend for the occasional misstep, the position that George Martin holds carries a lot of responsibilities and heavy expectations that are placed on him not only by a Board of Directors who are supposed to tell him what to do but also the entire family of retired players regardless of whether they’re members of the Alumni or not. That’s a heavy burden to bear and something that can never be relegated to a lower priority than any personal needs or agendas. Period. That’s why they pay him – and by extension, his hand-picked staff – those big bucks.

    And that’s what I understand you to also acknowledge in your first sentence about not debating John Hogan’s points while taking issue with Conrad Dobler and Dave’s details instead. Staying focused on the real issues will be the only way to resolve the long-standing problems between retired players and the League as well as the Union.

    As for the minor detail of 3 bankruptcies in 15 years, I do want to point out that it is indeed possible. I understand that your expertise is in the credit/debt recovery industry so I surely don’t want to get into an argument with an expert in his own field! But if someone files a bankruptcy within the legal limits of 7 years cycles, he could have filed two in 14 years legally, with a third filing after the first two had met their legal time periods of 7 years each. It’s VERY possible and it’s probably not as uncommon as many might assume these days. While there may be some unique circumstances in George’s case as you tried to point out, his publicly available court records simply indicated that he filed three times in 15 years. Which FOX Sports did, in fact, report accurately based on available information. George made a personal decision not to respond to their questions when given the opportunity to explain his situation.

    And as Dave did also point out, a well-paid executive search firm should certainly also have had – and demanded – full access to personal credit and criminal background information. We personally know of several candidates with solid credentials who should have qualified for that position easily but were somehow eliminated from the running early on. Heck, even most dating services run credit and criminal background checks today. If I were Roger Goodell, I’d be demanding a refund! And that’s supposed to be why they pay HIM the big bucks!

    Robert Lee

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