The National Football League’s treatment of retired players has long been under fire — notable critiques coming from Allen Barra, amongst others. In today’s Charlotte Observer, Charles Chandler holds NFLPA head Gene Upshaw up to scrutiny.
Thirteen Hall of Famers interviewed by The Observer expressed concern that the NFL and the league players association, headed by Gene Upshaw (above), don’t do enough to help former players, especially pioneers of the game suffering crippling health and financial difficulties.
“It’s the deep, dark secret nobody wants to talk about,” said Howie Long, a former Raiders defensive lineman who’s now a studio analyst for Fox Sports.
Long, Joe Montana, John Elway, Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Joe DeLamielleure, Randy White and Deacon Jones were among the Hall of Famers who expressed varying degrees of dissatisfaction with the NFL’s pension and healthcare benefits. They said they were speaking on behalf of all retirees, not just themselves.
“When I went to the Hall of Fame in 2000 and was inducted, it was a travesty the kind of carnage I saw out of these guys who were in their 50s and 60s, who had defined and in many ways laid the foundation for the NFL being what it is today,” Long said.
“Many of them could barely rub two nickels together to get to Canton. Many of them couldn’t afford to have their knee replaced or had fallen through whatever imaginary net there is from an economic standpoint. Not enough is being done.”
Long said it’s the dual responsibility of the league and the players association to fix the problem.
Other Hall of Famers say they feel neglected and abandoned by Upshaw.
“We figure all we have to do is go to my man,” said former Baltimore Colts running back Lenny Moore. “He’s the head of the NFL Players Association. He’s the guy who ought to pry the door open for us.”
Said ex-Houston Oilers defensive end Elvin Bethea: “The union doesn’t care about us. You’re a forgotten child.”
Upshaw said he does care and is proud of pension improvements made under his leadership, such as more than tripling monthly pension payments to retirees who played before 1959. He also said those benefits are now protected by law, but previously were not.
“For these guys to say what they get is peanuts, they’re being ungrateful,” said Upshaw, noting that current players agreed to fund higher payments to their predecessors.
Upshaw and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league pays out nearly $5 million per month in retirement benefits, including $1 million in disability.
Upshaw, 60, who has been executive director of the NFLPA since 1987, said he stands by his record and rejects the suggestion he’s supposed to be the retirees’ representative.
“The bottom line is I don’t work for them,” he said. “They don’t hire me and they can’t fire me. They can complain about me all day long. They can have their opinion. But the active players have the vote. That’s who pays my salary.
“They (retirees) say they don’t have anybody in the (bargaining) room. Well, they don’t and they never will. I’m the only one in that room. They’re not in the bargaining unit. They don’t even have a vote.”