Media loves to turn everything that happens into a crisis and to point out victims of our free enterprise system. If there was an asteroid headed toward Earth the headline of the New York Times would read “Earth to end tomorrow. Women and children to suffer most.” Retired players have become a hot topic in the media because most NFL fans remember the men fondly that built the league to what it has become today. But in this case, there are real victims and they are the retired players.
The salaries have come up dramatically in just the last few years. Players that were active in the 60’s through the 90’s were paid next to nothing compared to the salaries today. In the 1960’s a star might get 10K a season. By the 80’s a star might get 75K per season. To give you a feel for how much salaries have increased in recent years, here is a statistical comparison. In 2000, the average of team’s median salaries was $497,782.26 for the 31 teams in the league. By 2009 that number was $909,235.72 for the 32 teams. In just 9 seasons the average team median salaries nearly doubled. It increased 83% in just 10 seasons!
The only reason that the fate of retired players is a topic of discussion now is the NFL and NFLPA trying to get public support during their negotiations. Both NFLPA Ex. Dir. DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Goodell are working hard to build public support for their organizations. Public support will be critical if the 2 sides can not come to an agreement because the Congress and the courts will undoubtedly become involved.
In response to an inquiry from the Congress Comm. Goodell sent a letter to Congresswoman Sanchez that said in part “I have said publicly that there will be no agreement without improvements for retired players. On the contrary, when the union last week informed us that it was willing to make a new deal under certain conditions, there was no mention by them of increased benefits for retirees. The union leadership was willing to make a deal without any improvements for retired players.”
Goodell added “In the meantime, I restate the commitment that I have made on numerous occasions – no matter what course collective bargaining takes in the near term, we will not reduce in any way the benefits paid to retired players, will continue to accept new retirees into our benefit programs, and will continue to look for ways to improve services to retirees while simultaneously negotiating a new agreement with the NFLPA.”
Don’t let this magnanimity fool you. The NFL is simply looking for a PR bump and consider all money that goes to active or retired players as part of the “player pool.” They are willing do anything that would reduce the risk of giving huge amounts of cash to players that have never played a down in the league.
The PR factor is critical going into negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFLPA. The league has some options that do not require the union’s agreement to continue football in 2011 and beyond. I will outline those on Monday on NFL News, Notes, and Rumors at NFLDraftDog.com. But all those options require public support. They also require actions that will keep the NFL owners under the radar of the federal courts.
The union has a love-hate relationship with the retired players. When the retired players represented by Coach Ditka and others complain about the league not doing enough, the union agrees. However, the goals of those groups are not always similar.
In February 09, a federal court ordered the NFLPA to pay 28.1M into the retired player fund. The union filed an appeal. The suit concerned the retired players percentage of money from EA Sports games. In June of 09, the two sides settled for a 26.25M payment.
The problem between active and retired players is simple. The NFLPA represents the active players in negotiations with the owners for a new CBA. The active players are more concerned about maintaining their percentage of NFL revenue than about the retired players.
The retired players have been forced to take the crumbs from the tables of both the owners and players. The quality health care and concern for injury now are much better for the players than it was even 5 years ago. Retired players are suffering from injuries and physical deterioration due to years of having even major injuries ignored by the coaching and training staffs. The retired players were often forced to play with injuries because they would lose their jobs if they refused to go back on the field.
Hopefully, the new CBA will produce a fund that will better serve those that have build the game.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
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Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He is a regular contributor on Cleveland Sports Radio http://www.sportstalkcleveland.com/ Monday afternoons at 1 Eastern. He has also published several novels on
and edits .