NFLPA “TRUST” EXCLUDES THOUSANDS OF FORMER PLAYERS FROM SERVICES

In the 2011 CBA, the NFL Players Association negotiated a $240 million pool of money that would provide programs, benefits and services for former players. What those services would be - and how they would be delivered - was solely at the discretion of the NFLPA. A good chunk of that money went to the establishment of the “Trust” program.

Yesterday, our Buffalo Bills Former Player Chapter heard a presentation from one of our former players who recently visited the Cleveland Clinic and received a Brain and Body Health Assessment provided by the Trust.  He spoke highly of the services and recommended that we all take advantage of the program, especially the Cognitive and Neuropsychological Evaluation and the Brain MRI which would normally cost thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, the service is only available to players - like him - that have retired within the last 15 years.  Although it sounded like a great benefit none of the former players that were in attendance qualified for the services.

This criteria is not mentioned anywhere on the Trust website - yet.   All they say on the website is that any former player who has 2 credited seasons is eligible. I spoke with a staff person at the Trust this morning just to confirm that this was still part of the criteria. I’m sorry to report that it is. 

A few years ago I wrote about how the NFLPA was losing the "Trust" of former players.  In the article I mentioned the 15 year criteria for the Brain and Body Health Assessment, which I discovered only after numerous former players tried to access the benefit - were denied - and then alerted me to the requirement.  At the time I wrote the article, I thought the NFLPA had used the entire $240 million on services provided through the numerous Trust programs.  

Most former players still have no idea how much money – out of the $240 million - has been spent. What we do know is that in August of 2014, the NFLPA spent $35.4 million out of the $240 million to increase the pensions of former players that had credited seasons between 1993 and 1996. 

How much money is left in the $240 million pool…….and on what benefits and services will the remaining funds be spent?

The Trust website states that “Through partnerships we provide access to career, medical, nutrition, entrepreneurial and continuing education services -- all benefits you earned.”

Yes, we have earned those benefits, but unfortunately the NFLPA keeps excluding thousands of former players from accessing these benefits. 

If you are concerned about this, you need to speak up and let your Chapter President’s know how you feel. They, in turn, can share the information with the Former Player’s Steering Committee and the NFLPA leadership.            

Wives of Pro Football Hall of Fame Players send letter to Goodell

The wives of 26 NFL Hall of Fame players recently sent a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Director DeMaurice Smith stating that the league and the Players Association have neglected the pre-1993 players.

Here is the letter, followed by a transcript of an interview that was conducted by NPR's Bill Littlefield with Gerri DeLammielleure, the wife of Joe DeLamielleure.

March 9, 2015

Mr. Roger Goodell, Commissioner, NFL

Mr. DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director NFLPA

Dear Sirs:

At this time of increased public scrutiny of the “heinous underbelly” of professional football and of the “greed which places profits above the health of its players” (Steve Almond 9/16/14), we, the undersigned wives of members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, wish to raise yet another example of the dark side of the NFL, that being the complete lack of pension parity for ALL pre-1993 players. These Hall of Famers and other great “guardians of the game” (David Baker, 9/16/14) will see 30% of their comrades suffer permanent brain damage in the years to come. With or without this affliction, many more will find themselves living in poverty without the ability to seek adequate health care or everyday decent living conditions.

Since 1993, the National Football League Players Association has voted a yearly cost of living increase dependent specifically upon the actual calendar years played, to the pension of all players active after that date. A pension is defined in the dictionary as “a payment to a person who has fulfilled certain conditions of service.” A hero is defined as “a person regarded as a role model.” We cannot believe that the pre-1993 heroes have not met the conditions of service to the NFL, the NFLPA and to the public. They did so almost unanimously without besmirching their personal integrity or that of the game that they loved to play. They had to have loved it because their compensation, in light of today’s mega-million dollar salaries, benefits and team profits, dims by comparison. A simple cost of living increase would have doubled the pensions of these players by now so that even those players who took their pension early would be getting funds commensurate with their needs and well-being.

Neither the Players Association nor the owners will address this slight, in spite of Mr. Baker’s call to recognize “a cause greater than ourselves – to serve our teammates.” While Commissioner Goodell has professed an interest in improving the benefits of former players, the NFL as a whole has stood mutely on the sidelines and thus is primarily responsible for the deplorable living conditions of many former players. Writer Rich Gosselin has stated that football enables a player to learn the concepts of teamwork and trust, but how can the pre-1993 players trust the very people who have basically cut them from the team? Who apparently hope that these noble men will just die off? Mr. Baker wants to “honor the heroes of the game” and “celebrate excellence everywhere.” Where is the celebration and honor in this scenario?

The pre-eminence of professional football in our American culture today dictates that its leaders must strive diligently to deliver a product worthy of such public adulation. While you attempt to deal with the growing violence in pro football, on and off of the field, please do not forget the hundreds of men who played their hearts out pre-1993 only to have been forgotten by those whose pockets they lined. The NFL, the owners and the NFLPA have the ability to right this particular wrong. It just might be easier than trying to stem the now increasing flow of public recognition of the arrogance, ignorance and violence connected to the words “National Football League.”

The pre-1993 players shouldn’t have to appeal to the court of public opinion in order to be validated for what they did for the game of professional football. As Mr. Baker has also stated, “together we can meet the challenges that face us as we grow in character and become better for it.” Yet the NFLPA only pretends to exalt “one team, one community” while in reality, it has excluded the players upon whose backs the game was built. Pension parity should be the smallest form of appreciation given to the men who made the NFL a billion dollar business and the national pastime that it is today. These heroes deserve your respect. What a concept in light of much of the publicity given to the National Football League at present.

We, the undersigned, representing all players who played the game prior to 1993, request that the Owners, the NFL League executives and the NFLPA Union agree to a meeting with our representatives wherein mutual respect and appreciation of the contributions of every player can lead to a resolution of the tremendous disparity in NFL pensions. Even a small, annual pension increase (3%), could be a game changer in the lives of the pre-1993 players.

Sincerely,

Pre-1993 HOF Wives on behalf of all Pre-1993 players who played the game!

Jacci Barney                                                                   Pat Bethea

Angela Biletnikoff                                                         Pamela Dean

Gerri DeLamielleure                                                     Debby Dierdorf

Jeri Fouts                                                                         Evelyn Hanburger

Linda Babl Hendricks                                                    Gustie Houston

Gisela Johnson                                                               B J Kelly

Ann Lilly                                                                           Rosie Little

Anne Mack                                                                      Sylvia Mackey

Gwen Mitchell                                                                 Susan Olsen

Liz Renfro                                                                         Patsy Shaw

Patty Stenerud                                                                Gayle Wehrli

Vicci White                                                                       Merle Wilcox

Barbara Youngblood                                                      Colette Culp

Attachments

cc. David Baker, President, Pro Football Hall of Fame

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Here is the NPR interview conducted by Bill Littlefield (BL) with Gerri DeLamielleure (GD):

BL: I understand that you and your husband receive health care coverage now through your work as a nurse. What’s the NFL’s current obligation to Joe?

GD: He gets a pension and a legacy fund monthly, and there are no healthcare benefits. The pension is $1,257.96 and the legacy fund is around $1,110 a month. I mean, we’re by no means wealthy. We’ve raised six children. We had other kids live with us at one time. We have 11 grandchildren.

You know, next year we’ll celebrate 43 years of marital bliss — and I do mean that, marital bliss — but it would be wonderful to have a pension where I wouldn’t have to work and he wouldn’t have to work, except do things for charities and whatever when he wants to. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for pre-’93 players.

BL: The letter sent by you and 25 other NFL wives presents a document called a “Pension Disparity Fact Sheet.” Tell me a little bit about the need among the players who retired before 1993 and how they differ from the needs of the players who’ve retired after 1993.

GD: The pre-1993 players have no cost-of-living increase in any pension plan. They have no health care benefits. I know there are players in the pre-’93 group that either go without health care until they get on Medicare or they don’t see a doctor on a regular basis, which creates a lot of problems.

I think post-’93, these guys have tremendous benefits, salaries — nobody’s asking for that. We’re asking for a pension increase, which would give the pre-’93 guys dignity to take care of themselves.

BL: You and the 25 other NFL wives contend that “The pre-1993 players shouldn’t have to appeal to the court of public opinion in order to be validated for what they did for the game of professional football.” Have you and the other wives decided to go to the court of public opinion because other strategies just haven’t worked?

GD: Well, I mean if you read through the letter, we’re asking for a meeting. Nobody’s asking for every player pre-’93 to get $1 million a year or anything like that. We’re asking for a dialogue. Because I don’t think that it’s understood what pre-’93 players are going through. I mean my husband knows professional baseball players who have been retired for years, he knows professional basketball players who have been retired for years and he knows professional hockey players who have been retired for years, and they all say to him, “Boy, did you guys take it on the chin. You got nothing.”

BL: Have any of the parties to whom the letter was addressed responded to your request for a meeting?

GD: Not at all. No. No response whatsoever.

DeMaurice Smith wins NFLPA election: What does it mean for former players?

DeMaurice Smith easily won re-election to another three-year term as the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association yesterday in Hawaii.

Smith was re-elected on the first ballot, meaning he received at least 17 of 32 votes during the first round of voting. Some in the media, like Mike Florio, would try to have us believe it was a unanimous vote, by posting an article with the title "Unanimous re-election of DeMaurice Smith sends right message to NFL".  Even though he admits it wasn't truly unanimous, he thinks it will convince the owners that the Union is united and there is no acrimony among the current players.      

The challengers, which included former NFL players Sean Gilbert, Robert Griffith and Jason Belser, attacked Smith based on the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement that some feel heavily favored the owners.  Some called it "the worst CBA in professional sports history

So how did DeMaurice Smith win the election with that Sword of Damocles hanging over his head?

First of all, the candidates just weren't strong enough to overcome the power of incumbency. Here are a few articles regarding that assessment. NFLPA election more clown car than cohesion and The NFLPA Election for a new leader is a ridiculous clown show. I would agree that there should be some tweaking of the nomination process, but I think several of the candidates would have made good executive directors. 

Secondly: NFL player salaries are on the rise and will continue to rise in the foreseeable future. Approximately $4.5 Billion could be spent on active players next season and nearly $1.4 billion worth of contracts were handed out over the first four days of free agency. This can be attributed to an increase in the Salary Cap and even if it’s not the type of increase that player’s might have received if they had negotiated a larger share of the revenues, it’s still enough for them to feel good about the direction things are going. Like any good politician, all DeMaurice Smith needed to do was ask the electorate “Are you better off today, than you were 3 years ago?

Thirdly: NFL player benefits are also on the rise. Just look at the CBA and you will see almost every benefit that was included in the last CBA is going up on a regular basis. The Pension Plan alone has three increases for current players built right into the agreement. That’s something DeMaurice Smith can take credit for – although it would be nice if retired player pensions were also going up on a regular basis. ie. automatic cost of living increases or basic increases like the current players receive.

And lastly, Mr. Smith solidified his re-election by recently winning grievances against the NFL on behalf of Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. I’m sure the active players were happy to see the Union lawyers that Smith has retained are earning their huge salaries.

I know a lot of former players will be upset with the election results. I’m sure many of them would have preferred someone who was more concerned about retired player issues, but unfortunately that won’t get you elected. In fact it may have hurt some of the candidates that were perceived as being sympathetic to the plight of the older generation of players. Current players don’t really want to hear about how they can help former players, because that almost always means less money for them.

I know I've been a thorn in the side of DeMaurice Smith for quite a while, but I congratulate him on his victory and I do appreciate the steps he has taken to assist former players.   

We can’t overlook the fact that he helped with the establishment of the first rookie salary scale - even if he was initially reluctant to share the cost with the owners. The 2011 CBA changed what had become a ridiculous system in which unproven rookies were often making more money than most of their veteran teammates. The new system really ruffled the feathers of the top player agents who were benefiting from Gene Upshaw’s old way of doing business.

The money saved under the new rookie scale is being used to fund the “Legacy Benefit” and although most retired players felt - and still feel - that the increase to pre-1993 pensions was inadequate, it was largest increase we had seen in quite some time.

In this election, I think the active players felt that a bird in the hand is better than eight in the bush.

In 2018 the NFLPA will hold another election to decide who will lead the Union into negotiations on a new CBA. The current one expires in 2020.

The NFLPA still has a considerable amount of money in the current CBA to help former players. In the agreement, $242 Million was made available to fund retired player programs, services and/or benefits - as determined by the NFLPA. Some has been spent on the “Trust”  and some has been spent on increasing the pensions of players that played between 1993 and 1996

I'd like to see more done for the pre '93 guys - and yes, I fall into that category.  

How we you like the NFLPA to spend the remaining money?            

NFLPA Convention: Active and Retired Players Need Answers

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Players Association will be hosting its annual convention in Maui, Hawaii for both current and former players. About 150 former players will be attending the event, but another 18,000 will be sitting at home - like me - wishing we had the time and money to bask in the tropical sun and enjoy the camaraderie of former players - discussing issues that are important to all of us.

By the time most former players get to the convention the active players will have already elected their Executive Director. The election is scheduled for March 15th, one day after each candidate will make their case to the 32 player reps who will ultimately vote.

Click on this link and check out an excellent article by Patrick Hruby regarding the people running against DeMaurice Smith and their concerns with the lack of openness and accountability at the NFLPA. In the article, Hruby mentions Sean Morey’s six-page letter that was sent to NFLPA president and Cincinnati Bengals lineman Eric Winston requesting an extensive list of documents and answers to questions. In an email response, Winston rejected Morey's request, telling him that the information already available to the candidates was "enough."

I’m sure Winston checked with DeMaurice Smith before he gave his response. And why would he do that? Well, consider this......

DeMaurice Smith is not only the Executive Director of the NFLPA, he is also the Chairman of the Board for NFL Players Inc. - the money making arm of the Association.

According to the Players Inc. website, they are looking to “Establish better business relationships and interact with NFL players at proprietary events. Identify and integrate the best players for their product lines and marketing campaigns and streamline player activation by facilitating endorsement deals and appearance logistics."

This is the business entity that in many cases will decide which players (both current and former) get paid for attending meet and greets at events, golf tournaments, autograph sessions and for marketing a company’s product.

If a player did anything that was perceived to be against DeMaurice Smith’s wishes, it’s not hard to believe that they could find themselves blackballed from money making opportunities.  All of the top people that work at NFL Players Inc. were hired by Smith, so I find it hard to believe that they would go against his wishes if he put a bug in their ear about a particular player who was not toeing the party line. What better way to control someone than through the potential threat of taking away their ability to generate income? If you think I'm being paranoid or unfair, just ask Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure how he's been treated by Players Inc.  

Joe was an outspoken critic of Gene Upshaw and he hasn't said too many nice things about DeMaurice Smith either - and it shows in the amount of money he has made through Players Inc. compared to other comparable players on the money making list.  I'm sure the NFLPA will just say it all comes down to a players "marketability."  Nonetheless, the potential for abusing this power over the purse of active and former players exists and the active players should put an end to it by adopting a resolution that disallows the NFLPA Executive Director from having any influence, affiliation or connection with NFL Players Inc.

No matter who wins the election, the biggest question for most retired players will remain the same - How can we increase benefits for former players?

That’s not an easy question to answer. As former players we must always remember that the Executive Director of the NFLPA works for the active players. They can hire him and they can fire him, so his number one priority will always be to bring home the bacon for active players.

DeMaurice Smith has touted that players will earn a combined $640 million more this coming season than they did just two years ago because of growing salary-cap numbers and other benefit increases.

To put that in perspective, The $640 million is more money in one year for 1,700 active players than the $620 million in Legacy Benefit money that was allocated over a 10 year period to 4,700 retired players. 

DeMaurice Smith has boasted about the Legacy Benefit even though a majority of former players felt the increase was not nearly enough, especially in light of the huge increases in active player pensions and all the other retirement type benefits (ie. Annuity Plan and Second Career Savings Plan) that have been added to active player benefits.

Under the current CBA, active player pensions will go up every three years until they reach $760 per credited season in 2018. In comparison, most former players vested in the retirement plan - from the beginning of the NFL all the way up to 1992 - receive approximately $360 per credited season (that includes the Legacy Benefit)

Back in 2010, when the last CBA was being negotiated, I was writing and blogging for Fourth and Goal Unites. On March 12, 2010 - almost 5 years to the day, I helped Bruce Laird draft a letter to the NFLPA Executive Committee and player reps that showed them why we were asking for increases in our pension plan and other benefits. Here’s a link to that article: Bruce Laird's Open Letter to the NFLPA Executive Committee and Player Reps

I think the letter is almost as relevant today as it was then.

I hope the former players that attend this year’s convention will continue to advocate for increases in our pension plan and other benefits and remind the active players and their elected representatives that even more needs to be done to help the older generation of players – the players that helped build the foundations of pro football.              

NFL Foundation 2015 Youth Football Grant Applications due by March 20

For those of you who may not be aware of it, the NFL Foundation awards grants to former players who organize and host free, non-contact youth football camps during the summer. Grants range from $1,000 up to $4,000. The application deadline is March 20, 2015.

For details about the application and requirements, you can download the full application guide here: NFL Youth Football Camp Application Guide 

This program recognizes NFL players and coaches who give back to communities in their hometowns or team cities while also providing positive examples for young football participants by emphasizing sportsmanship and involvement in community-wide charitable projects.

All coaches at camps funded through the NFL Foundation must complete our online Coach Smart course with instruction on heat and hydration and concussion awareness and prevention. This year's Coach Smart Course includes an updated CDC concussion awareness video.

Who Can Apply?    

Former NFL players who are vested under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan and who host a camp associated with a non-profit organization or school.

• Current NFL players 

• Current NFL coaches (head, assistant, special teams, etc.)

• Former NFL coaches (head, assistant, special teams, etc.) who will host a camp associated with a non-profit organization and/or school

Please note that the NFL Foundation will not review applications for any players or coaches who have not completed grant reports (formerly known as evaluations) for past grants.