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
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.
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
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.