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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    NFL's cold-hearted stance regarding its vets is deplorable

    By Bryan Burwell
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    02/02/2007

    MIAMI This is the darkest side of America's greatest sports fantasy. It's Super Bowl Week in the belly of the National Football League's massive publicity machine radio row at the Super Bowl media center and there are countless former players slowly milling around the room from one radio interview to the next.

    They used to move smoothly across the playing field. They used to run fast and jump high. Now they shuffle and limp with stiff-legged gaits.

    Underneath pant legs and long sleeves are grotesque surgical scars. Their fingers are contorted like spiny tree branches; some of them amble along with canes. If you did not know any better, you would think they were disabled war veterans, not former pro football players.

    Keith Sims was a three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman who played 11 years in the NFL, mostly with the Miami Dolphins. I have not seen him in several years. The first time I met him 16 years ago, he was a healthy 24-year-old rookie. Today, he's a 40-year-old man who can't stand on his feet for longer than 20 or 30 minutes.

    "I took four Advil this morning, and that ought to last me until noon," Sims told me Thursday. "I'll take four more by then and try to ice down my knees."

    He pointed to the jagged scar that ran down the back of his left leg. Achilles tendon operation. He showed me his disfigured fingers that had been dislocated, jammed and surgically fused so often that he practically lost count on the wear and tear.

    "But I'm one of the lucky ones," Sims said. "I own a Dunkin' Donuts franchise. I can pay my own medical. But I know a lot of older veterans who aren't as lucky as me."

    This is not a part of our childhood football fantasy. We dreamed of racing into those sold-out football coliseums like glorious warriors. We did not dream of limping out of them like crippled victims or ruining our kidneys with too many pain killers.

    As great and profitable as business has been for the NFL owners and the current players salaries are higher than ever; profits are beyond mind-boggling there doesn't seem to be any interest by the league or the players' association to put aside enough of that money to adequately assist former players whose disability coverage and pensions are woefully inadequate.

    Former St. Louis football Cardinal Conrad Dobler is one of those men. Dobler retired in 1981 and has undergone 11 football-related surgeries since then. In 1994, he tried to use funds from his NFL disability insurance by applying to the NFL retirement plan. What followed was a tangled, frustrating roadblock of bureaucratic madness.

    According to an interview with HBO's "Real Sports," Dobler said his doctors believed he had an "impairment of 90 percent" in his legs. But when the pension administrators sent him to see their physician, that doctor ruled that Dobler could work and denied his application.

    In the "Real Sports" interview, Dobler said he ingests roughly 150 Vicodin a month to numb the pain in his knees. He also told Jon Frankel of "Real Sports" that he has considered suicide.

    Frankel: "What's in store for you in the next five years, 10 years?"

    Dobler: "I don't really know. I don't think it's, I don't think it's really good. But you just take it, I guess. Find some way to handle it, and if you can't handle it, then you make the choice to check out."

    Frankel: "You're serious?"

    Dobler: "Yeah, if you have something that's not going to get better, and you know your quality of life is going to get worse, and you're going to be a burden on people around you, they shoot horses, don't they? Didn't they make a movie about that?"

    I spent the past few days in Miami talking to at least 15 or 20 former NFL players who confirmed exactly what the "Real Sports" story said: Their retirement benefits fall far short of sufficient health-care coverage of all their job-related disabilities.

    Hall of Famers such as Mike Ditka and Jerry Kramer are so upset with the union that they started the Gridiron Greats Superstar Online Auction (jerrykramer.com) to raise money to assist former players in dire need. "We can't wait anymore for the NFL to help," Kramer said. "I don't know when that will happen, so we have to do something now."

    The legends all blame the increasingly arrogant and brazenly insensitive executive director of the players' association, NFL Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw, for much of this mess. And you know what? I can't blame them.

    There was a time long ago when Upshaw was the most powerful voice in the room. He was a reactionary, a revolutionary, a hard-charging, tough-as-nails union activist who was the ultimate anti-establishment fighter.

    But now he sounds like a damned tobacco executive, full of mumbo jumbo statistics, bogus corporate misdirection and cold-blooded insensitivity. This is what he told the Charlotte Observer when questioned about the complaints of the retired players: "The bottom line is, I don't work for them. They don't hire me, and they can't fire me. They can complain about me all day long. But the active players have the vote. That's who pays my salary."

    So now he says the money's not there to help the retired players. And all I keep thinking is how much he sounds like a bloated glutton who doesn't want to share even the most insignificant crumbs from his lavish buffet.


  2. #2
    UtterBlitz's Avatar
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    Re: NFL's cold-hearted stance regarding its vets is deplorable

    Well that is depressing article. Football is obviously not so good for some of the players. Some positions take more abuse than others and those guys will pay for the rest of their lives for their time in the NFL.

    Sports are not always glamorous and they take a toll on the body.
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  3. #3
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    Re: NFL's cold-hearted stance regarding its vets is deplorable

    Quote Originally Posted by UtterBlitz View Post
    Well that is depressing article. Football is obviously not so good for some of the players. Some positions take more abuse than others and those guys will pay for the rest of their lives for their time in the NFL.

    Sports are not always glamorous and they take a toll on the body.
    i agree and the statement in that article about the money not being there is bull****,the NFL is booming right now, if they wanted to take care of the veterans they could,alot of these young stars making tens of millions of dollars always talk about the guys who paved the way for them,well don't just talk about them HELP them,you have the funds to do it.

  4. #4
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    Conrad Dobler

    Dobler was a national football announcer for years, and made okay money. He certainly is much better off than a lot of these guys. He was also exposed to formar players even as he was signing new contracts. I am sorry he is in pain, but my guess is that he can afford to deal with it better than a journeyman running back or an offensive lineman who is not quite pro-bowl calibre. And of course the real old-timers (pre-70's) were paid squat.

  5. #5
    AlphaRam is offline Registered User
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    Re: NFL's cold-hearted stance regarding its vets is deplorable

    GridIron Greats Assistance Fund

    Thanks, RW...you stole my thunder!!! lol
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