Former NFL Players are not "begging" for a Pension increase

By Jeff Nixon
Oct. 03, 2016

Back in 2009, I attended the first “Independent Retired Football Player’s Summit” in Las Vegas. Many former players including myself, were concerned about the way the NFL and the NFLPA were treating former players, so eventually a new organization was created to try and bring all of us under an umbrella that was “independent” and not financially supported by the NFL Alumni Association, or the NFL Player's Association.

I was one of the presenters at the first summit and I spoke about the NFL Pension Plan. I didn’t have a lot of good things to say about it then, and if you’ve read any of my articles over the past ten years, you know I still have some concerns.

I’m pleased to see that the people who organized the first Summit, continued to have annual meetings and finally become a non-profit organization called the . 

Although I haven’t attended a convention since that first one, I still support just about everything they are doing, including the idea that we should do more for ourselves. My hat goes off to the President - Marvin Cobb, Vice President - Woody Campbell and other key members Jo Bielski, Carver Shannon, Clinton Jones, Jane Arnett, Chuck Detwieler and Bob Grant.

I have only one suggestion for the organization: Don’t call former players that have been fighting for better Pensions and benefits “Beggars.”

Over the past few months I have received a number of emails from Bob Grant and the Retired NFL Players Congress saying we shouldn’t be begging the NFLPA or the NFL for pension increases - and that we shouldn’t resort to litigation.

Here are excerpts from a few of the recent emails I have received from the organization.

“The Congress continues to work on ways for us to increase our own pensions, and reduce the number of years required for vesting. We intend to get that done without begging, or resorting to litigation. Obviously, that is going to take a little time with your support.” – August 30, 2016

“As you know, we are working to do for ourselves what we have begged others to do for us for too long now.” – July 15, 2016

“In the past, as retirees from “The Game,” we have largely relied on the charity and gifts of NFL ownership to take care of us in the twilight years of our lives through the various programs that are available. I hate to say it, but that feels like a form of WELFARE.” - June 10, 2016

I’m not sure how other former NFL players feel about these statements, but personally speaking, I find it offensive that we're being characterized as beggars. I find it even more appalling to suggest that former players who are receiving a pension, or other benefits, is similar to receiving welfare.     

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are proud men who gave everything we had to the game of Pro Football and I’ll be damned if anyone is going to call me, or any other player a beggar, or a welfare recipient. NFL players from earlier generations gave their blood, sweat and tears so that future NFL players could benefit from the fruits of their labor. At the same time, they also expect a little in return. Is that too much to ask?  

The AFL and NFL owners reaped the benefits of cheap labor from the older generation of players and it helped them build 32  that are now worth billions of dollars. The Dallas Cowboys, alone, are worth an estimated 4 Billion dollars. 

And let’s not forget that it’s been 30 years since NFL players have had to go on strike. That’s because most of the groundwork has already been done.  The pioneer players have laid the foundations of the NFL and paved the way for current players.

The fact that we have lobbied the active players and NFL owners for better benefits and have resorted to  strong political action - such as  and  - does not make us beggars, trying to get something we didn’t earn and don’t deserve.

We have used the legal system to battle for the rights of former players and we've won cases, lost cases and settled a number of cases that have been filed against both the NFL and NFLPA. I know that people like to trash lawyers, but without them we never would have gotten as far as we have. Even though the lawyers were compensated for the work they did, it was never more than what the former players received in return for their services.   

If anyone thinks it’s time for former players to bury the hatchet and sit around the campfire with the NFL and NFLPA singing Kumbaya, then they must  be suffering from amnesia, or even worse…..TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries) caused from playing football. Do I really need to explain why it was important for us to litigate that issue? 

Our litigation over the concussion issue has done a lot to help the active players too. In a 2014 NPR radio  said "One major change in the world of the former players who were parties to the [concussion] lawsuit and players today is there are no more two-a-day practices during training camp. Players now only can have one day a week during the course of the season. There is a longer off-season for rest and recovery."  

The active players have us to thank for the change in how many days they have actual ........and trust me, we will remind them of this and other improvements ie. concussion protocals, that have come about as the result of our litigation, especially when they are deciding whether they should increase former player pensions and benefits during the lead up to the next CBA negotiations. But, we will not be begging them for anything. And we will not be recieving any monthly welfare checks.  If anything, it is former NFL players that have looked out for the welfare of active players by suing the NFL over the concussion issue and the drug prescription problem. The  has already changed the culture of the NFL and the way that addictive painkilling drugs are dispensed throughout the league.            

We are ADVOCATES, LOBBYISTS, TRUTH-TELLERS and FIGHTERS and I hope that we will continue to use every tool in our chest, every arrow in our quiver and every card in our deck to get what is fair and just for former players. 

Some people might think that pro football players aren’t playing with a full deck. They may be right, but we finally got smart and realized that good attorneys are worth their weight in gold and could be instrumental in helping us navigate the legal system.  We started hiring the best and brightest lawyers to represent us in court.... and it has worked to our advantage.

Both the NFL and NFLPA have shown that the money is there to increase our pensions. But those increases didn’t come without a fight and they didn’t come without a strategic plan. Just before the last CBA was negotiated, 80 Hall of Fame players signed a letter asking the active players to institute a rookie salary scale and use the money saved to increase veteran player pay and increase the pre-1993 player pensions - the Legacy Benefit. It was a win-win situation. You can see the letter and the Hall of Fame players that signed it by clicking 

Unfortunately, the Legacy Benefit did not increase pre-1993 player pensions by the $2,000 monthly amount that the  had hoped it would. But, instead of getting , former players need to do something about it......... And we have! 

In addition to a number of Hall of Fame players continuing their call for increases to the pension plan, their wives have joined the battle. They   to Roger Goodell and subsequently met with NFL representatives on December 8, 2015 to discuss their concerns. They are continuing to meet with the NFL - and here's a word of advice. If any former player happens to see one of those wives, don’t call them a beggar to their face, or you better be prepared to protect your family jewels…..and I’m not talking about the bling in your home safe.

Please, don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said, I think it’s great that the Retired Player Congress wants to provide financial assistance to older players and guys that are not receiving pensions, but anyone suggesting that the Retired NFL Player Congress is going to increase ALL former player pensions, without asking for the help of the NFLPA and NFL, is living in La La Land.  I’m not a naysayer – just a realist.

We can’t let the NFL or NFLPA off the hook. They will be courting former player support (as they always do) during the next CBA negotiations and we need to remind them both exactly what they have said in the past.

DeMaurice Smith: “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.”

: “Nothing we do or say can ever fully express our appreciation for the dedicated players who built the NFL. But I believe that the Legacy Fund is an important step in the right direction.”

Yes, they do have a moral and fiduciary obligation. And yes, the Legacy Benefit was a “step” in the right direction. But, the NFL and NFLPA still have a lot of steps to climb before we get to the mountaintop and can finally say that former players have reached the “promised” land.

The NFL and NFLPA would love nothing better than to see us looking elsewhere for funds to prop up our pension plan () If they didn’t have to worry about dealing with us every time they sat down at the bargaining table to negotiate a new CBA, it would make life so much easier for them – and more profitable.

If former players weren't fighting for Pension Plan increases and other benefits, the 1,700 active players would be free to concentrate on  among themselves. They could also negotiate increases in other retirement benefits by . Not to mention even bigger increases to their own pensions - which are currently at $660 per credited season, but will rise to $760 per credited season in 2018.  Oh, and by the way, the minimum salary is $450,000 for a player with no credited seasons, $525,000 for players with 1 credited season - and up and up.  I remember going on strike in 1982 and getting the first minimum wage benefit established in the CBA. In 1987, players went on strike again to get free agency, and after numerous court battles, the 1993 CBA finally gave players what they had always wanted - the ability to market themselves to other teams. Since 1993, active player salaries and benefits have shot through the roof and that's due to the fact that NFL revenues have also continued to grow.  

The NFL Salary Cap per team has gone up about $10 million on average over the past three years: (2013: $123 million); (2014: $133 million); (2015: $143.28 million) and (2016: $155.27 million). League-wide, that's an increase of $32 million per team, or 1.24 Billion in new money that the current players have received over that relatively short period of time. Since revenues are split under the CBA, the owner's also pulled in an additional 1.24 Billion in new money over the past three years. Altogether, that's about 2.5 Billion between the two of them. 

If the active players and the owners think former players are content to do for ourselves, they won’t have as much of an incentive to help us. If they think we won’t use the legal system to hold their feet to the fire, then guess who gets burned?

I don’t want anyone to get the impression that the NFL and NFLPA haven’t done anything for former players in previous years and in previous CBA’s. They have spent millions on programs and services - and through the , they have committed billions to past, present and future players. Unfortunately, most of those billions are committed to present and future players.     

Additionally, the NFL and NFLPA both have programs that assist former players who are having financial problems. One is called the and the other is called the . They have both given out millions of dollars in grants to players that have needed a helping hand…….not a handout. 

It is admirable that the Retired NFL Players Congress has worked with the NFL Player Care Foundation to assist in the distribution of $25,000 in funds to our most senior professional football players. They are doing great work, but they shouldn’t be calling anyone beggars or welfare recipients.    

While we should do everything in our power to “do for ourselves" we must continue to remind the NFL owners and the active players that they have a moral and fiduciary obligation to the retired players when it comes to the NFL Pension Plan.

One last thing.  The NFL owners and the active players are the key to receiving any significant increases in our Pensions. They must be willing to share some of the new revenue that has been coming into their coffers over the past few years.  And why shouldn’t they?  As ambassadors of the NFL and NFLPA, we are still helping them market the game and bring in new fans and costumers. 

The money is there.  The big question is:  Do they have the will to increase former player pensions?

We're not begging the NFL or the NFLPA to do anything for us.  We're just asking them to do the right thing for us. That's called advocacy.    

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