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GridIron Greats Assistance Fund

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  • GridIron Greats Assistance Fund

    Forgive the lengthy post, but the article and the information are important, in my mind.

    I have been a Rams fan for close to 40 years. In reading and seeing the NFL over my life, I still came to respect many players on other teams. Many of these players are mangled from football and have no money to live their lives. The players of which I speak are those that worked jobs during the off-season to make ends meet. Did you know that Mike Webster became mentally ill and homeless before passing away?

    Mike Ditka, Jerry Kramer, and others have created a foundation to raise money for these guys who have built the game. There is an auction that starts tomorrow (Feb 1) that includes items listed below with the site link following:

    - Mike Ditka donated his 1975 NFC Championship ring
    - Joe DeLamielleure donated his gold bracelet which OJ Simpson gave to him and other members of the famous Bills offensive line known as the Electric Company, in celebration of their record, Joe's name is engraved as is OJ's inscription." We did it, The Juice"
    - Vince Lombardi Jr. donated plays hand drawn by his father
    - Merlin Olson & Jerry Kramer will take high bidders on a fishing trip of a lifetime in Hells Canyon, winners spend two days with these NFL greats and master fisherman!
    - John McEnroe has donated a day of tennis with him
    - Paul Hornung has donated a football signed by himself, Bart Starr and Jim Taylor
    - Eli Manning donated a pair of his game worn cleats
    - Dwight Clark customized a football has hand drawn the famous CATCH play on it
    - Archie Manning donated a trio of Manning family authentic football Jerseys
    - Howie Long will host fans for a day on the Fox NFL set, and then have dinner with them
    - Harry Carson will spend a day with fans in New York City

    MIAMI – Mike Ditka is spitting fury and frustration, words hitting harder than a South Beach hangover.

    He surveys the scene here for Super Bowl XLI, takes one look at the giant billboards, the corporate sponsors, the overflowing hotels and restaurants, the four-figure ticket prices and he doesn't see smiling faces – just old ones.

    Like the one of Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler who died broke and sick and had spent time homeless, living in his pickup truck.

    Or Willie Wood, a Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer, who played in the first two Super Bowls no less, currently struggling with a mountain of medical bills from myriad surgeries to repair back, neck, spine and hip problems almost all assuredly related to the violence of football.

    Or Herb Adderley, another of those old Packers, who is so disgusted at his $126.85 per month pension in the face of all the NFL's profits that he refuses to wear his Super Bowl or Hall of Fame rings anymore.

    When you spend your days hearing sad stories from all your old friends who helped make the Super Bowl the extravaganza it is, helped lay the foundation for a league now filled with millionaire players and billionaire owners, you don't have to have Mike Ditka's legendary fire to want to blow up at the owners, at the NFL Players Association, at the current players, at someone or something.

    "It's a disgrace," Ditka said, starting to tick off his culprits. "The owners ought to be ashamed of themselves. The owners are financiers, and they are all about making money. They don't care about the history of the game.

    "[NFLPA executive director] Gene Upshaw?" Ditka continued. "Come on. You can get somebody off the street to do what he is doing, and you will pay him a whole lot less. You've got [players] today making millions of dollars.

    "All we are saying is we got a lot of guys that started this game that have a lot of problems health wise and mental wise. I say help them out. Help them out. Let them die with a little dignity and a little respect."

    With that Mike Ditka is about out of breath. But not out of will.

    Here is where the issue gets as complicated as it is emotional.

    Two things are undeniable. First, many older players (especially pre-early 1980s) are suffering financially, physically and, often, mentally and emotionally. A great deal of that comes from playing the game. Second, the NFL is now awash in cash, a $6 billion industry.

    The problem is that the retirement deals cut back in the day were reflective of the fiscal realities of those times. Older players look at today's Super Bowl as a cash cow and argue it wouldn't have been possible without Super Bowl I.

    "You see we've got a $4 billion contract, we've got a 59-percent increase in income, franchises are now worth a billion and a half dollars and you're going, 'hey, hey, excuse me, you forgot something back here,'" said Hall of Famer Packer Jerry Kramer, who played in the first two Super Bowls.

    "This era is what founded the foundation of the league."

    Indeed it is. But, then again, that first Super Bowl in 1967 didn't sell out the Los Angeles Coliseum.

    "The pension for the current players is quite good," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday. "And those benefits are a factor of the economics at the time. [For] guys who played years ago, the economics of the league weren't as great. Therefore their benefit package isn't what the benefit package is for the players today."

    The NFL currently pays out $61 million in pension, but most of that goes to post-1977 players. The NFLPA recently upped its contributions to older players, but people such as Ditka claim it is woefully insufficient.

    And while you'd love to see the NFL just step up and cover every player in need, it deserves at least some nod of respect for bucking every known trend in corporate America – rather than trying to abandon its legacy costs to retirees, it actually is upping its contributions and commitments.

    "Every collective bargaining agreement we've negotiated with the players has included improvements in the pension plan for retired players," Aiello said. "Which is unusual in industry for the bargaining unit to go back and improve the benefits."

    Of course, it isn't enough. Nor is the NFLPA's weak claim that it can only do so much because it legally represents only current players, not retired ones. Both the NFL and NFLPA could and should do more. Both could and should act as examples of what is right here.

    That they defend their current actions says there is a lot of semantics here, a lot of buck passing, just not enough to the old players.

    But the real problem here isn't exploding revenue or left-behind senior citizens – we've had that in most major sports. It is the inherent nature of the NFL, too violent, too painful, too destructive for any traditional definition of right and wrong to apply.

    "Willie Wood had an operation on his high spinal column, on his high shoulders, on the narrowing of the spinal canal, on his lower back and on his hips," Kramer said of his old teammate.

    "You know any one of those [surgeries] could wipe out a modest savings."

    You don't have injuries like that playing basketball or baseball. You probably don't have them as a coal miner, or a lumberjack or a jackhammer operator even.

    If the NFL were just any old industry – and not our national sporting obsession – it is quite possible the federal government would all but outlaw it for the safety of the workers. The NFL can provide all the helmets, trainers and team doctors it wants, but this still is a game that essentially can ruin anyone who plays it at the highest level.

    "Football is a great game until you turn 45," former San Francisco wide receiver Mike Shumann told the San Francisco Chronicle in a story that detailed how at least 20 members of the 1981-82 ***** already cope with serious physical issues.

    Which is why this is such an issue for the NFL. Common sense tells you that many players retire from football due to disabling injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives, be it a blown knee or the double-digit concussions. But unlike most industries, players have been unable to prove it in court, and as few as two percent of retired players receive disability from the NFL.

    With near-crippling injuries suffered from this massively violent pursuit, they struggle to make ends meet on meager pensions, hit-or-miss health care and limited employment prospects.

    But the NFL, as rich as it is, can't afford to have 1,000 players suddenly on disability, sometimes for forty and fifty years. The league, as a business, can't operate if it admits that so many employees who do only what their job requires – tackling, blocking, being tackled, being blocked – wind up disabled.

    It is not an understatement that the entire league's existence would be at stake. The federal government would have to pass some kind of legislation protecting it from such claims so it could continue to operate. That's why the NFL vigorously fights disability claims.

    Moreover, the post-retirement life of a NFL player is full of non-physical challenges. According to the Kansas City Star, two-thirds of players have "emotional problems" within six months of retirement. And eighty percent of their marriages end within four years – another huge financial drain.

    The NFL now works with current players about preparing for life after football, understanding that many players arrive from coddling college programs where there was little actual education and few thoughts spent on anything but playing ball.

    "We have programs in place that never existed years and years ago to help prepare players for their transition," Aiello said. "They first hear about it at the rookie symposium and then they go to their teams, and they know about all of the resources that exist to assist them in their life off the field including continuing education, internships, life skill programs."

    But that is too late for the older players who often mismanaged parts of their lives. Ones such as Adderley, who was one of 324 former players including 40 Hall of Famers who (foolishly, he admits) took early retirement, which explains his pathetically low pension. Not that it would have been much better. Kramer gets just $358 per month.

    But the question remains, should it really be the NFL's job to care for all these players for all these reasons?

    That debate is sure to get more contentious and litigious. The former players aren't backing down. There are lawsuits and press conferences and fights to be had. Ditka is just one of the combatants. The battle promises to be long and nasty, high stakes, high emotion.

    In the meantime, Ditka and Kramer can't wait. And they won't. Both are fortunate to be in good health and enjoy prosperity from post-playing careers. But they won't forget their old teammates.

    "I don't know if it is anyone’s fault particularly," Kramer said. "Some guys took retirement. Some had bad information. A lot of us got [information] indicating we would die at an average of 54. A lot of guys didn't, but a lot of guys got caught in bad decisions financially or medical decisions. The medical thing has gone so through the roof."

    Whatever. Nothing can change that now.

    "I've got guys in the hospital, guys in homeless shelters, I've got guys who need help in days," Kramer said. "I can't believe the owners and the union won't correct this problem. [But] that's not my concern this week.

    This week he is acting. Kramer, Ditka and a host of former players and franchises are holding an online auction to raise emergency money for players in need.

    It's called the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund and the memorabilia and experiences are one of a kind. Ditka is auctioning his 1975 NFC championship ring. There are celebrity experiences with Harry Carson, Howie Long and Merlin Olsen. Hand-drawn plays from Vince Lombardi. All kinds of stuff.

    The information for the auction and the fund can be found on

    And whether you think the NFL and NFLPA should do more, whether Ditka is right or wrong, you can't argue with the need.

    The Super Bowl is upon us – a celebration of the game. But not for those whom football chewed up and forgot.

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  • RamWraith
    NFL's cold-hearted stance regarding its vets is deplorable
    by RamWraith
    By Bryan Burwell

    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...
    -02-03-2007, 05:05 AM
  • ramsanddodgers
    Paying the price...
    by ramsanddodgers
    'This is about watching loved ones die'

    Mark Kriegel

    As warnings go, this one was as heartbreaking as it was ominous. At a news conference organized by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund — a group whose very existence shames the NFL Players Association — Garrett Webster spoke of his father's death.
    Mike Webster played 17 seasons in the pros, most of them for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and is considered by many to be the game's greatest center. In 1997, he delivered an alarmingly confused speech at his Hall of Fame induction. Five years ago, at the age of 50, he died: broke and alone, addicted to painkillers and suffering from dementia believed to be the result of the repeated concussions he endured as a player. In his last days, Iron Mike Webster — who started 150 consecutive games for the Steelers — would curl up in a ball and cry. As it ended, he couldn't even find the bathroom. His son remembers him urinating in an oven.
    "This isn't just about the players," said Garrett Webster. "This is about families watching their loved ones die."
    In 2005, a federal judge ruled that the NFL still owed his estate more than $1 million in disability payments. The league appealed the ruling and lost.
    Historically, the NFL hasn't made it easy for players who, like Webster, were injured in the line of duty. But then, management and ownership have been doing what management and ownership usually do. That is, what they're allowed to do. The real question: Why have the NFL Players Association and its boss, Gene Upshaw, have been so quiet for so many years. Why has it taken a slew of exposes and an organization like Gridiron Greats — basically a renegade group, fed up with the faux union — to focus attention on issues like post-concussion syndrome, disability, and a $1.1 billion pension fund that seems inaccessible to retired players in the direst of circumstances?
    That's what brought Garrett Webster, among others, to Washington, D.C. They were testifying before a Congressional subcommittee. "The system does not work," said former Bears coach Mike Ditka, a standard-bearer for the Gridiron Greats.
    Subcommittee members heard some horror stories, many of them already familiar to casual readers of the sports pages. There will be more stories like Mike and Garrett Webster's unless the system is fixed.
    What it takes to be in the NFL is often antithetical to what is required for a healthy life. Unlike any other team sport, football destroys players physically and neurologically. As Upshaw should know, ballplayers can't be counted on to protect themselves. Football players get bigger, stronger and faster. But they remain, now as then, cursed with courage.
    Consider the case of Upshaw's former teammate, Jim Otto. One might argue, especially if one likes the Raiders, that Otto is really the greatest center ever. He retired in 1974, Webster's...
    -07-14-2007, 03:24 PM
  • Curly Horns
    Burwell: NFL settlement has no winners
    by Curly Horns
    AUGUST 30, 2013 12:05 PM • BRYAN BURWELL •

    The little kids were just a few feet away, scooting and scampering across the artificial turf in the Edward Jones Dome in their oversized equipment and undersized bodies. They chanted and whooped and strutted around the place, mimicking perfectly the NFL giants they all dream of becoming one day.

    And there was Stan White, retired pro linebacker, veteran of 11 violent NFL seasons. White is a color radio and TV analyst for the Baltimore Ravens now, but in his playing days he was not only a damned good linebacker but a hardcore union guy back when the players were grossly underpaid and no one really knew (or cared?) what sort of long-term damage was being done to their bodies.

    He’d been a soldier in the NFL labor trenches before, fought a lot of damned hard fights for the rights of the players. But on Thursday night as he prepped for the broadcast of the Rams-Ravens preseason finale, he did not feel much like celebrating the news that the NFL had reached a staggering $765 million out of court settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players.

    White knew what this was all about – and more importantly, what it wasn’t about.
    “This will help a lot of those men and their families who really need the money,” White said. “Lots of guys are suffering and in bad shape physically and financially. They need this real bad.”

    But White wasn’t ready to fist bump or wave the union banner because this wasn’t a victory that insures the overall long-term health of the game. It is a short-term fix, an immediate and necessary life line to a lot of his retired brothers who are suffering the devastating effects of too much brain trauma.

    “They need it. They deserve it and I’m glad the money’s coming from the owners, because they are the ones who should be paying for this,” he said.

    But no, he said, he wasn’t happy, just relieved, because this story is damaging the image of the game he loves.

    “I’m a high school football coach,” said White. “I don’t want parents scared to let their sons play this game.”

    This is all part of the strange and conflicting inner struggle going on within the NFL community. How do you fix the game without killing it? How do you dare ask some of these battered and bruised men to make any more sacrifices for the greater good of the game, when all they’re trying to do now is just get to tomorrow without losing their minds or killing themselves?

    So when White heard the voices of those who think the retired players should have stood their ground, dug their heels in the ground, refused to settle out of court, forcing the NFL into a courtroom and before a jury where the potential for a bigger financial and legal victories could have occurred, he shakes his head.

    No, he says, these men have already sacrificed enough....
    -09-03-2013, 06:49 PM
  • Ramblin` Ram
    so much for our current "heroes".
    by Ramblin` Ram
    Birk committed to cause

    A disappointing number of players contributed to the Gridiron Greats program, but the center vows to keep at it.

    By CHIP SCOGGINS, Star Tribune

    Vikings center Matt Birk said he was surprised but not deterred by the poor response from NFL players who were asked to donate part of their game checks from a December game to assist former players who face severe health and financial hardships.

    Taking a leading role in the Gridiron Greats program, Birk donated $50,000 and also sent a letter to every NFL player encouraging them to donate a portion of their Dec. 21 game check. Of the nearly 1,700 active players in the league, only about 20 donated to the cause, including eight of Birk's Vikings teammates.

    Birk acknowledged Tuesday he was surprised that only about 1 percent of the active players donated, but he vowed to work harder to raise awareness for the cause.

    "It's not going to deter me from getting the message out there," said Birk, who was honored at the Super Bowl as a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. "I'm going to fight for this cause. It's in the best interests of everybody involved in this league. We're going to pick it apart and figure out how we can do better."

    Jennifer Smith, executive director of the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, said the number of players who donated part of their game checks was less than last year, when the organization raised between $275,000 and $300,000.

    However, Smith said donations still are coming in and blamed some of the response on time constraints. Players received Birk's letter only 10 days before the Dec. 21 date.

    Former Bears coach Mike Ditka, a member of the Gridiron Greats board of directors, was less diplomatic in his response to USA Today when asked about the number of players who contributed.

    "What's that tell you?" Ditka told the paper. "Would you call it apathy?"

    Gridiron Greats assists former players, some of whom are in dire need of basic necessities. At a press conference in the Twin Cities in December, former player Dwight Harrison said he lives in a trailer with no running water in Beaumont, Texas.

    Birk, who reiterated that Gridiron Greats has nothing to do with pensions, addressed the problems in his letter to players.

    "Sadly, the price paid by some of those who came before us has been too costly," he wrote. "They live in excruciating physical pain and severe mental anguish as a direct result from their playing days.

    "In too many instances, these men have had to deplete their financial resources in an attempt to achieve a quality of life that is bearable at best and many have no health insurance or access to medical care. The toll of playing football has left some of our brothers...
    -02-04-2009, 07:49 AM
  • Curly Horns
    Bernie Bytes: NFL wins big in concussion settlement
    by Curly Horns
    August 30, 2013 12:10 pm • Bernie Miklasz

    I’ll suspend the political correctness and state the obvious here: in the matter of the $765 million settlement of the concussion-related suit filed by retired players, the NFL won in a rout.

    Several reasons:

    1. Some legal analysts suggested that the players could have won $2 billion or more in damages had the players pushed this all the way. And others projected a doomsday scenario that would have meant the end of the NFL as we know it. After all, this is a gladiator sport – and if you can’t keep the players healthy, and you’re going to get sued and be forced to pay damages every time a player suffers a concussion, then how could you possibly continue to operate?

    Well, that’s over now.

    Yes, $765 million is a big number, but it breaks down to about $24 million per team. Goodness, NFL owners and GMs waste more money than that on stupid free-agent contracts each year.

    Moreover, the league gets to make this go away on a payment plan; half the settlement is due within three years but the NFL can allocate the other half over 17 years. This is a league that collects nearly $10 billion a year in revenue, and that annual haul will increase in the coming years. This payout is tip-jar money for NFL owners.

    2. The league didn’t have to admit liability. Direct words from the court document: “The settlement does not represent, and cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football.”

    Of course, that’s preposterous; the NFL didn’t agree to pay $765 million because the 32 owners are sweet, wonderful and generous humanitarians. This was obviously an acknowledgement by the league, but legally it doesn’t matter.

    The NFL had already gone on the offensive by instituting new rules to protect players. This helps in three ways: (A) increased player safety is the right thing to do; (B) the NFL's new safety initiatives puts the league in a more positive light; (C) the new guidelines will help ward off future concussion-related suits.

    And the NFL’s PR machine already is working its magic to portray the league as a proactive, sensitive organization that cares deeply about the players’ health.

    Before settling, the former players had made good progress in winning the PR battle. I don’t think anyone out there is a fan of dementia. I don’t think anyone wants to see these old football heroes suffer horribly as they grow old while NFL owners are growing their franchise values and individual wealth.

    By agreeing to settle, the former players ceded the PR platform to commissioner Roger Goodell and associates. And this plays to the NFL’s strength; the league can spin away and engage in more image enhancement.

    3. The settlement will keep the league’s private files and documents...
    -09-03-2013, 06:54 PM