The pain must have been beyond measure for Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back, to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger last November. But following his death, and sparked by the diligence of another former NFL player and the expertise of a gifted neuropathologist, the pain Waters must have endured for too long was actually calculated. The results – published today in a solid New York Times story showed Waters, 44, had the brain of an 81-year-old man, perhaps in part due to concussions sustained playing pro football.
The story reminded me of the sad and ugly on-going battle between the NFL players’ union and the league, and many older former players over pensions and benefits. Four years ago, the league increased pension payments to the approximately 1400pre-1977 players by $110 millions. That may sound like a lot but for the 800 or so players who played before 1959 – and those in the greatest need – the increase still left them with a pension of only $200 per month for each season they performed.
Check out these three Hall of Famers: Former safety Paul Krause, who played 16 seasons (1964-1979) for the Redskins and Vikings, gets $300 a month in pension. Leroy Kelly, a 10-year running back for the Browns (1964-1973) gets $800 a month. And Joe DeLamielleure, who played 185 consecutive games during his 13 NFL seasons with the Bills and Browns, receives $800 a month. None has received NFL health insurance benefits.
Not surprisingly, in light of today’######-salaries, many former players, on whose backs today’############# players stand, are incensed. Chuck Bednarik, the Hall of Fame linebacker and center with the Philadelphia Eagles who played from 1949 to 1962, has been quoted as calling the pensions “chump change.”
He is not alone in his ire. “We’ve been [eft out] on every hand,” eight-time Pro Bowler Deacon Jones has said. “We didn’t do anything but play hard, play hurt and do whatever was asked of us. Every event I go to, I see some guys’ bodies fading away. By the time something’s done, these guys will be gone. It’s like they’re waiting for our generation to die out, so they don’t have to answer these questions anymore.”
This is a significant stain on the league and NFL union head Gene Upshaw. Both have enjoyed prosperity beyond measure in the game’###### prosperous era. It has been reported that Upshaw has told the pre-1977 players that he does not represent them. While labor law dictates that Upshaw must represent only active, dues-paying members of the union, I hope that is not true.
One thing: the union has worked with the league and medical officials to address the growing conern over consussions and their long-term repercussions. But while rension and retirement benefits to retired players have increased substatially over the years, there is still more that can – and should – be done.
As we celebrate yet another Super Bowl tournament – I hope this critical issue will be resolved for the better before too many more players can no longer take the pain.
NFLPA head GeneUpshaw did not want to comment my thoughts.