"We, The National Football League Players Association … Pay homage to our predecessors for their courage, sacrifice, and vision;" - First sentence in the NFLPA mission statement.
I recently received an email from Butch Byrd, a former Buffalo Bill and a man of wisdom and vision who I'm honored to call my friend.
Butch was an NFL All Pro five (5) times and was voted the best right cornerback in the Buffalo Bill's fifty year history. He's in the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and the Boston University Hall of Fame and he received the Ralph Wilson Distinguished Service Award in 1994. He also played on the 1964 and 1965 Buffalo Bills AFL Championship Teams and his name is prominently displayed on the Bills Wall of Fame that circles Ralph Wilson Stadium.
In addition to being a really good player, I've always found Butch to be one of the strongest voices of reason among the ranks of our Alumni. He served as the NFLPA Former Player Chapter President in New England for many years and has attended numerous NFLPA conventions.
If you know Butch........you know it takes a lot for him to get riled up. He's very polite and he does his best to see both sides of an issue. If I wanted anyone holding the scales of justice on behalf of former players, he would be right up there near the top.
Like a lot of former players, Butch is tired of the lip service we are getting from the NFLPA and he wants them to put their money where their mouths are by providing better pensions for the pre-'93 players.
Butch wrote the following email regarding his concerns and sent it to Cornelius Bennett, the 2014 Chairman of the NFLPA Former Player Steering Committee and current Board Member. He gave me permission to send it to my list of 6,000 former players.
March 30, 2015
I want to thank you, Dewey McClain and Cal Snowden for pointing out the need for me to voice my concerns. Over the years I began to believe my thoughts didn't matter. I can remember at one President's meeting in Washington it was stated that "If you're not on board, get out of the way" and maybe I took that to heart.
However, your comments as to my lack of participation during the last two conventions caught me totally by surprise. Saying that "it wasn't me, or just worrying about my health" was gratifying and I thank you for caring. As promised, I'm emailing you my comments in regard to this and past conventions.
Let me address your concern over my lack of participation during this last convention. I promised myself that I would not cause any uproar or get distressed when I viewed or heard information I disagreed with.
Perhaps, I'm was being somewhat selfish, keeping my concerns to myself, considering how good fortune has smiled on me over the years and not on others, especially those who played the game, during the sixties and seventies.
With that said, First, let me expound on what I agreed with. The NFLPA staff and Board of Directors have done an outstanding job and are truly committed to the post 93 retirees. When I review many of the recently created benefits / programs they all seem to address the well being of the more recently retired former players. I do believe that these recently retired players are deserving of every benefit awarded to them. However, it’s just as obvious to me that while the emphasis has been on the post 93 retired players - the pre 93 retired player's issues and concerns have been placed on the back burner.
I believe older former players have been manipulated and continue to be manipulated to believe that they count, and that something good is going to happen, witnessed by the same theme " One locker, one team" being repeated over and over.
In many ways, it seems that older former players, by design, have been relegated to a second class citizens status or are just being ignored, hoping we'll just fade away.
In reviewing the more recently established programs that were handed out at the convention and listening to the rhetoric in the open sessions, it was clear that the focus of the former player portion of the convention was 95% geared to the more recently retired former players.
Witnessed by the following pension plan:
The pension plan will be increased three (3) times during the current CBA. It will increase in two year implements, see below:
$470 credited season
$560 2012 through 2014
$660 2015 through 2017
$760 2018 through 2020
Meanwhile, thousands of pre-1993 players are still receiving $255 per credited season - plus the additional $108 or $124 per credited season under the Legacy Benefit for a grand total of $363 or $379 per credited season. One Team, One Locker Room?
However, the constant rhetoric of "One locker Room, One Team" or "we stand on your shoulders," spoken primarily to the older retirees, conveying the thought "we owe you", alluding to some sort of positive fix is in the offering, tends to be meaningless and in reality, misleading and wrong.
Why continue to give false hope to older retired players as if something positive was just around the corner? Statements like "we're constantly reviewing programs" doesn’t help.
One hears that some current players are for increasing benefits for older retired players while some current players are against any substantial increases for older retired players... but the NFLPA leadership preaches that "current" players are for older retired players, which is it? It's very confusing and frustrating, one doesn't know what to believe. DeMaurice states he's supportive of older retired players. Where's the Action, we need more than "its under review"
The lack of action brings us back to the Gene Upshaw infamous statement (you didn't hire me, you can't fire me!) Maybe that's the problem.
Many of the "older" former players are past that stage in life where "programs" are important - but age should not disqualify retirees as viable candidates for major benefit improvements.
It seems to many of the older retirees, just ask us, that age as become the criteria used to determine who gets enhancements and who doesn't regarding future benefits. I have been told, as some sort of justification, that other unions don't go back and adjust former employees benefits so we should feel more appreciative getting what we get. We should be more appreciative because the NFLPA doesn't have to reach back.
When DeMaurice Smith first came on board he talked about one locker room, one team, and that we were all in this together. I will admit I drank the "cool aid" I believed what he was selling. At that time I was President of the New England chapter. I tried my hardest to convince former older retired players that we should give the man a chance. Well, despite all his rhetoric, we felt and continue to feel let down.
Two years ago at Marcos Island, at the President's meeting, when responding to a question regarding older retirees, one of the leaders of the NFLPA staff stated, "it’s too late for them" - them being the older retired players. Is this a reflection of the attitude in Washington?
None of the other leaders who sat around the table said anything to correct that message. So maybe this was, or is, the prevailing thought regarding older retirees.
All one has to do is to review some of the newly created programs. The Trust is geared toward the more recently retired players. The program is great for those who are more recently retired, but for older retirees the program holds no substance.
Another example, in reviewing the 12 step NFLPA Benefit Roadmap, I'm wondering how steps 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, relate to older retirees.
There were several questions, in the general session, in regards to enhancement of pension benefits for older retired players. The answer to all of the comments, from both DeMaurice and Nolan, was "we continue to review the process".
Former players that are past 60 years of age can't continue to wait for reviews but I guess Washington knows that. The "one locker room, one team" mantra, which was again voiced by DeMaurice, doesn't hold water if it doesn't address the needs of ALL former players. Creating programs for one segment of retired players and ignoring the other doesn't work ...and I'm not sure if the NFLPA leadership really cares. All the rhetoric in the world, no matter how many time you repeat it, doesn't work if it doesn't meet the needs of all in the community of retired players.
I know the NFLPA leadership will point to the Legacy Benefit as a major benefit for older players and I would agree. I and others retirees appreciate the gift. But that was some years ago and falls way short of what the pre-93 retirees need.
The other caveat is "the NFL doesn't have enough money....please!
Remember one Locker Room, One team....but maybe not!
One other caveat and its important. I believe, as many other retired players believe, that any retired player who sign a contract, should get a pension equal to the corresponding years played, one year or ten. That's the "right" thing to do!
1964 to 1971