John Hogan: What Happened with the NFL Alumni?

Jun 13, 2012

EDITOR’S NOTE: Now that some of the dust has settled from the fallout of George Martin’s 2-year tenure as Executive Director of the NFL Alumni, there are a lot of questions still left unanswered. Attorney John Hogan was an active advocate from the earliest stages of what started with the best of intentions. We’re also going ahead with including John Hogan and Dave’s discussion on Disability from the recent IFV Conference held in April in Vegas. The video is at the bottom of this post.

An Open Letter to the NFL and Retired Players Regarding the Alumni

We recently read the exposé of George Martin and the NFL Alumni Association written by A. J. Perez and Alex Marvez for FoxSports. We’ve also read the accounts of the Alumni’s press conference from the Super Bowl and of their Board of Directors’ support for George Martin.
I confess – I’m 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’m proud to call many retired players my friends and most of them are a tremendous source of inspiration for me.
That said, I’ve thought that I’d 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.
You may recall that several years ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell visited several cities for meeting 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 subsequently 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.
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.
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 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.
It never happened.
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 being appealed 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 generating today.
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.
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 heard 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 Alumni chapter – including here in Atlanta – where there are between 700 and 800 retired players.
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 appeared to be little more than lip-service.
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. So far, they’ve been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in “interest-free loans” from the League.
The point of this post 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 mattered what they thought or how much confidence they had in George Martin and the Alumni’s direction.
The only one who really matters is Roger Goodell. Is he willing to continue to invest multiple millions of dollars to try to continue propping them up on their feet – or is it finally time to close the check book and see if they can stand on their own feet?
John Hogan
Disability Attorney
Retired Football Player Advocate


5 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Henrietta Watson
    June 14th, 2012 at 3:23 am #

    Sid Watson

    Thanks for the recent update. I wonder if they ever will get around to the widows?

    I still have a question: Why did Gene Upshaw’s wife get $16 million and 320 widows get nothing? If it would only take $7 million to take care of 320, couldn’t that have been reduced to $9 million? Or was she given this amount because of Gene’s deferred payment plan taken out of the settlement because of his family’s dispute over this amount? Who actually owed that amount?

    As always, there are a lot of questions with too few answers.

    Henrietta Watson
    widow Sid Watson (1932 – 2004)
    Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins
    1955 – 1958

  2. Gordon Wright
    June 14th, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    Gordon Wright - NY Jets

    Thanks 4 the update, Esquire Hogan!

    Gordon Wright
    Philadelphia Eagles & New York Jets
    1967 – 1970

  3. John Griffin
    June 14th, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    John Griffin

    Thanks for the update and thank you for all the long hours and hard work in trying to help the retired players. This post just confirmed everything I was thinking all along. The Alumni is not for retired players and neither is the NFLPA. We are the unpopular group that is supposed to remain silent and abused. When thrown a bone, we are so eager to get it without really knowing that we’re being used again for someone else’s agenda. Shame on all the Owners, NFLPA and Alumni.

    Well, you can keep the new and younger players for now and pay for their drug use, dog fights and prison terms; but I will keep my money and dues to myself so I can at least pay for my own prescriptions.

    John Griffin
    LA Rams & Denver Broncos
    1963 – 1967

  4. Kamal Ali Salaam-El
    June 14th, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Reggie Harrison

    OK OK OK – I have another question again.

    Has anybody received the raise from the CBA or the Legacy Fund yet? I thought the check was in the mail or maybe someone stole mine out of my mailbox. When I called the NFL office I was told that they were being processed one at a time! Maybe they meant one per month, I’m still waiting and still paying out the nose for prescriptions. WOW!

    Kamal Ali Salaam-El
    aka Reggie Harrison
    Pittsburgh Steelers
    1974 – 1977

  5. Tom Matte
    June 15th, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    Tom Matte

    Thanks for the update.

    My question is how did the Board NOT know what was going on with George Martin, Ron George and what other friends they had on the payroll??? It’s about time we find some leaders who can market the Alumni and provide the leadership to make us an independent and profitable organization. It can be done.

    Let’s make it happen!

    Tom Matte
    Baltimore Colts
    1961 – 1972