The Harvard University Health Study of NFL Players

Dear Alumni,

I have spoken with administrators and staff that are conducting the the Harvard University Football Study and I believe it is a worthy endeavor.  Although the NFLPA is funding the study, Harvard has taken strong measures to insure its independence in conducting the study. Even if you believe the funding for the study should have gone to better benefits for older players, please know that the money has already been invested and we should do everything we can to insure the study is productive. 

Unlike most academic studies, Harvard’s intent is to yield results in a short period of time. The simple goal of the study is to learn as much as possible about the current state (physical, mental, emotional) of former players. This is not an academic study for someone’s PHD thesis, this is not a study for information gathering that just ends up in medical journals. This is a study that will produce treatments and methods that will improve the lives of current and future former football players. 

Confidentiality is a serious component of the study. Harvard utilized the legal expertise of the Harvard Law School to insure the participants confidentiality is protected. The following measures have been taken to mitigate confidentiality concerns:

· Questionnaire responses are identified by a unique ID code only identifiable to the          research staff at Harvard

· All information is stored in a secure database that only a limited number of people have     access to at Harvard

· The research team is trained to handle highly confidential data

· You will never be identified in any publication or presentation without your permission

 · Harvard obtained a Certificate of Confidentiality issued by the National Institutes of    Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Please join your football brethren and let Harvard know you want a questionnaire at: https://footballplayershealth.harvard.edu/join-us 

You can read more about the study at: https://footballplayershealth.harvard.edu/

You can contact the study directly at: players@footballplayershealth.harvard.edu or by calling 617-432-5000.



Transitioning out of the NFL

There is a great article posted at the Bleacher Report entitled “How Soon Should Rookies Start Planning for Life After the NFL? Now!” 

In the article, they talk about the NFL's Transition Assistance Program and its mission to help former players return to normal lives after their NFL careers.

Don’t you wish they had something like this for the older generation of players?

In the article they say that the program is needed now more than ever.

Really?

In the article Keith Elias, a staff member of the program said "In terms of transitioning from the NFL to after the NFL, it's harder than ever. In the past, in the '70s, '80s and even the '90s, players used football as a springboard to another career. They don't do that now. To players now, football is everything. They hang on longer and don't want to acknowledge it's over. Whether you play in the NFL for two years or 20 years, someone will be eventually telling you to leave. You need to be ready for that."

I’m sorry, but I have a hard time believing that our generation of players had it easier than the current generation of players. The current players even have a benefit called the "Second Career Savings Plan" that helps them tremendously in their transition. We played for peanuts and had rules that allowed players to:

• Hit a player in the head. Remember this play - Jack Tatum hits Darryl Stingley  (There was no flag thrown on this play – it was all perfectly legal)

• Slap a player upside the head (See Deacon Jones Video

• Treat a Quarterback like a rag doll (See Namath, Unitas, Brodie, Baugh etc.)

• Cut a players knees out by setting him up. The “chop block” was legal for 60 years. 

• The hits just keep coming! 

I could go on and on, but you can see why we might have needed a little transitioning after all the physical, mental and emotional abuse we took.

Yes, we even had to get second jobs in the offseason to make ends meet, but that didn’t make us any more prepared to face the real world after all the cheering stopped.

Another NFL Transition staff member Eddie Mason said "A lot of guys I meet are hopeless and despondent. The NFL was everything to them and it's gone. So some guys spend time trying to figure out, who exactly am I?"

I would wager to say that there are a number of players from the 50’s, 60's 70's and 80's who are still trying to figure out who they are.  Because of the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries) many of them suffered, they have forgotten who they are - including who their family and friends are. 

The NFL, NFLPA and NFL Alumni all have “transition” programs that are spending millions of dollars to help newly retired players make the transition into the real world as smooth as possible. I will admit that its probably a lot tougher going from making 4 million a year to going broke. But I'm sure there are a lot of former players that would have loved that kind of money in the bank when they got the news they were "waived" goodbye by the NFL. 

In my opinion the transition should be easier for new retirees – especially for those that have 5 or more years of playing time. Why? Because they‘re leaving the game with earnings and benefits that the older generation of players could only dream of having. The “average” player salary over a 5 year period is about 4 to 5 million - and when you include bonuses and benefits like the Transition Program, the Severance Pay Plan, the Annuity Plan, the Second Career Savings Plan, the TRUST program, Five Years of Free Health Care, the Health Reimbursement Account, Group Health Insurance under the NFL, the Tuition Assistance Reimbursement Plan and a pretty decent Pension and Disability Plan - those wages, bonuses and benefits can do a lot to “fill the void” and ease the pain of no longer playing in the NFL.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that they now have programs like this in place. Sometimes they can be the Lifeline that a player needs to keep them from making a terrible decision in a moment of severe depression. There are no second chances when you commit suicide.

In my opinion, the older generation of players could have used a transition assistance program just as much  - if not more - then the current players but, unfortunately for us, the big money explosion in NFL revenues didn’t really take place until the 1990’s.

Our transition took place a long time ago and the only thing that most of us want to see at this stage of our life is a boost in our pensions. That will help our families and the ones we love when the time comes for us to transition into the next life. 

Ecclesiastes 12:7 - "then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."


It’s Time for Parity in the NFL Pension Plan

Jeff Nixon discussing retired player issues with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

“Parity” is the phrase that is often used to describe the model that has made the NFL the juggernaut it is today - and one of the key reasons why the NFL Commissioner and the NFL owners are projecting an increase in revenues from 9 Billion to 27 Billion by the year 2027.  Let’s call it 27 by 27 plan.

By equally sharing revenues, establishing a salary cap and designing a system that enables bad teams to get better via the draft, the owners have found a way to keep smaller market teams competitive and the fan base excited and willing to spend their hard earned money on the game. Under this system of parity, fans are always hopeful that their teams are just a few good players away from being Super Bowl contenders. 

I love parity - and I think it would be fantastic if former players had some parity in respect to the NFL Pension Plan.

Before I begin to discuss this issue, I want to acknowledge that there is no legal requirement for the NFL and NFL Players Association to increase the pensions of former players. If anything, corporations in the U.S. have done everything in their power to reduce and eliminate the pensions of their workforce. But, then again, NFL is a different beast.  

Representative John Conyers Jr. said the issue of brain injuries in football warranted federal scrutiny because “the N.F.L. is a monopoly whose existence was legislatively sanctioned,” referring to the antitrust exemption for broadcasting that has helped the league grow into a multibillion-dollar operation.  As such, the U.S. Congress feels it has some oversight of the League and from time to time they have come to the aid of former players and have conducted hearings that were intended to hold the NFL accountable for its actions - and in some cases worked to level the playing field.  The NFLPA has also incurred the wrath of Congress. The Executive Director, DeMaurice Smith was criticized for the NFLPA's sluggishness in addressing the issue of concussion risks years ago and for not better educating its players. 

In his testimony before a Senate Committee in 2007, Commissioner Goodell said “The men who played professional football decades ago deserve our respect and recognition, and their contributions to our game must never be overlooked.”  The NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith stated, “We have a moral obligation to the retired players, we have a fiduciary obligation to the retired players. That obligation has to be both in words and deeds. If you fail in either one, you fail.” 

Both the NFL and the NFLPA have made statements about helping the pioneer players of professional football. I can only speak for myself when I say I truly appreciate the increases that have been made to my pension. But, like a lot of other players, I believe that more can be done to bring parity to the pension plan. For one thing, I have argued for many years that every former player that has 3 credited seasons should be vested in the pension plan.     

Former players that are vested in the NFL Pension Plan have now begun to make arguments for more parity. The wives of Pro Football Hall of Fame players  recently sent a letter to Roger Goodell asking him to meet with them and their husbands to discuss the issue of sub-par pensions for the older generation of players.

As I have pointed out in previous articles, active player pensions will be increased to $760 per credited season by 2018, whereas the vast majority of former players (pre-1983) are receiving less than half that amount - about $358 to $374 per credited season - when both the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Pension and the Legacy Benefit are factored into the equation. 

It's true that many players took their pensions early - before age 55 - and by doing so, significantly reduced their payments. The NFLPA saw that this was a bad idea and stopped allowing it for players that have credited seasons after 1992. Why did players take their pensions early? Most will tell you that they needed the money just to make ends meet........and not because they made bad business decisions, or got divorced, or were just lazy and didn't work, as Drew Brees suggessted back in 2010.    

It is important to note that the active players also have two other retirement type benefits – the Annuity Plan and the Second Career Savings Plan - not to mention  salaries that have shot through the roof since 1993. You can see a description of the benefits under the new CBA at this link, along with an estimate of what they would be entitled to if they were fortunate enough to play over the 10 year course of the agreement.  

Back in 2010, during the heat of CBA negotiations, both the NFL and NFLPA talked a good game, but in the end, former players didn’t get close to what we were hoping for when the dust settled and the 2011 CBA was signed. I wrote about this in an article posted at Fourth and Goal entitled the Legacy Fund ResolutionHere is an excerpt from the article:

At the 2010 NFL Players Association Convention in Maui, a resolution entitled Former Player Members Expression of Support was passed by the active players. The resolution stated the following:  [RESOLVED, that the NFLPA Former Player membership expresses its full support for the active NFLPA membership in their demand during their CBA negotiations that the NFL and its member Clubs establish a Legacy Fund for Former Players to be funded by 2% of the profits generated by the NFL and its member clubs each year; and that the Legacy Fund be used to increase the pensions of all Former Players who have a credited season before 1993 and who are currently receiving a pension by an additional $2,000 per month.]

As most of you know, the NFL and the NFLPA have been dividing revenues since the 1993 CBA. It has always fluctuated around a 50/50 split. Under the aforementioned resolution, the NFLPA wanted the owners to take all the money out of the NFL's 50% share of revenues, but eventually the two sides agreed that the money would come from the savings accrued from instituting a rookie wage scale - that’s how they got the $620 million to fund the Legacy Benefit. Unfortunately, only a very small number of the 4,700 players that were affected by the Legacy Benefit saw a $2,000 per month increase in their pensions. Most players received less than a $1,000 a month increase in their pension. 

There have been numerous ideas about how to equitably fund our pensions. We have talked about an annual cost of living adjustment, but I believe the idea of using 2% of revenues (as recommended in the 2010 Active Player Resolution) is the best idea – with the stipulation that the 2% come from both the NFL and NFLPA. Hall of Famer Ron Mix, myself and several other player advocates have discussed the 2% solution as an approach that could bring parity to the pension plan.

Under the 2% solution, we would only receive pension increases if the revenues continued to increase. Doesn’t that make sense?

For the sake of argument, if the NFL owners are successful in reaching their goal of 27 billion by the year 2027  - and somehow we were able to get the pension plan tied to that increase - we would be looking at an enormous increase in the pension plans of not just the older former players, but ALL players! 

As former players we have always been used by the NFL to market the game and bring new generations of fans into the fold. Many of us are actively involved in supporting the teams we have played for. We do tremendous good in our communities under the banners of the NFLPA Chapters and the NFL Alumni Chapters, but let’s not forget who is the greatest benefactor of all our efforts – it’s the NFL.......... and we are their Bannermen!

The NFL and NFLPA  have numerous programs and services that help former players and they continue to spend millions of dollars on research programs that will show them what we already know – that the older generation of players are “messed up” physically, mentally and emotionally. Why? Because we didn’t have the necessary supports and protections in place from our union or the league during the time we played. 

All these NFL, NFLPA and NFL Alumni programs and services are fine and dandy, but I think most guys will say that “cash in their pocket” – via an increase in their pensions – is better than all the other programs combined.

What say you…Alumni Bannermen? 

Update on NFLPA "Trust" Brain and Body Program

I recently received an email from a former player who responded to my recent article on the NFLPA’s “Trust” program. I will not divulge who sent the email, but they did play in the NFL from 1994 to 1999.

He said “The Trust is currently working on a similar program for older players that have different physical needs. Contact them if you have any questions. I read your blogs, but this time you have been slightly misinformed. Contact them.”

I responded by saying the following:

I did contact them.

As I mentioned in my article, I spoke with a staff person at the “Trust” who confirmed that the Brain and Body Program is only available to players that have retired within the last 15 years.

The website does not mention this criteria - and is therefore misleading. I have had several former players contact me to confirm that they were not allowed to participate in the program because of the 15 year criteria.

Do you know of any players that were accepted into the program even though they did not meet the 15 year requirement? Did you participate in the program before the 15 year retirement period?

Would you agree that the services listed on the website (see below) would be beneficial to all former players?

Here is what the Trust website says:

The key resource here is the Brain and Body Health Assessment, which is provided by several leading health institutions located all around the country. The Trust has assembled a team of highly regarded medical centers. Each has direct experience in treating NFL players and is committed to helping them develop and maintain a healthy brain and body. Each partner will also provide a recommendation containing a plan of action that each player can follow in his home community.

The medical centers will provide former players with the following benefits:

• Initial Screening (Identification of potential needs and Evaluation with Sports Medicine Psychiatrist

• Musculoskeletal/Rehabilitation Evaluation (Discuss injury history and current functional status and Dietary Consultation

• Cognitive and Neuropsychological Evaluation (Brain MRI)

• Transition Counseling (Sports Psychology Counseling, Goal Setting Sessions, Life Transition Programming)

• Sub-specialty Referral Facilitation in Patients’ Local Area (Medical Services, Social Services)

The website says that the medical centers are committed to helping former players develop and maintain a healthy brain and body. Unfortunately, due the 15 year policy, the medical centers and doctors are not allowed to provide the aforementioned services to thousands of former players who - as the "Trust" website says - have earned these benefits.

I think it is unconscionable that the NFLPA would exclude every retired player from the year 2000 and back from receiving these valuable services.

Every year that goes by, approximately 200 to 250 additional players are excluded from the brain and body program.

Research has shown us that many of the cognitive impairments experienced by former NFL and AFL players do not begin to show up until 15, 20, 30 years after retirement.

In your email you said “The Trust is currently working on a similar program for older players that have different physical needs.”

Why does the NFLPA and the Trust think we have different physical needs?

In my opinion, the older retired players need the Brain and Body program more than the recently retired players.

As an advocate for the “Trust”, I am trusting that you will convey this message to the NFLPA leadership and the Trust program administration.  

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.