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Monday, June 25, 2007
Congress to Investigate Pension and Disability Treatment of Retired NFL Players

Tomorrow at 1 p.m., the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law will conduct a hearing on the disability benefit application system offered to retired NFL players by the NFLPA. A number of ex-players have asserted that the NFLPA has ignored the needs of former players--the very players whose labor, arguably, built the league from which current players benefit. Former Dolphins tight end Jim Mandich, for instance, has called the NFLPA "greedy [jerks] that don't care of their own."

So how much do ex-players receive in their pension? According to Andrew Abramson in an excellent article in the Palm Beach Post, former players who retired before 1993 receive on average about $250 per month for every year they played in the NFL--meaning that a retired player with four years of NFL experience earns about $1,000 a month in his pension. Granted, the number varies depending on what age a player decided to take his pension, but even the higher-end monthly stipends are much lower than pensions for other major sports.

In another excellent article on this topic, CNN Money's Chris Isidore explores the disability portion of the retirement system. He notes that while 284 players received disability payments totaling $19 million last year, that only came to a modest average of $66,000 each--"hardly sufficient for some of the players facing severe and costly medical problems."

So how does a retired player seek disability benefits? Here's how:
Six trustees, who oversee the benefits process on the NFLPA retirement board, approve disability benefits. The trustees include three former players and three team owners.

If a player is denied benefits and a court of appeals is willing to hear his case, the Groom Law Group, which wrote the NFL's collective bargaining agreement and oversees legal matters for the NFLPA's retirement plan, serves as the retirement board's attorney.

Only 284 retired players currently receive disability benefits, according to Groom Law attorney Doug Ell, and there are an estimated 9,500 retired players overall.

More than 20 players who were denied benefits by the retirement board have had their cases heard in appeals court. The Groom Law Firm was successful in preventing all but one of those players from receiving benefits.

This subject has attracted more attention in light of recent findings concerning the long-term health problems of those who play in the NFL (see Geoffrey's post, Andre Waters and Concussion Liability, and articles by Alan Schwarz in the New York Times--Expert Ties Ex-Player's Suicide to Brain Damage & Dark Days Follow Hard-Hitting Career). Perhaps more than ever, an enhanced pension and disability system is essential. Along those lines, notes committee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez, "the NFL is a billion-dollar organization built on the backs of individuals who have, in many cases, sacrificed their mobility, suffered traumatic brain injury, or worse. I called this hearing to bring together representatives of the NFL, the players union, and retired players to have an open discussion on the fairness of the system to severely disabled retired players."

Among the alternative systems that will be discussed tomorrow is whether individual franchises should carry their own disability insurance for players. But that very idea was rejected in 1993, when the NFL bargained with players that in exchange for free agency, individual teams wouldn't be responsible for disability insurance. Other ideas to be examined will include setting aside an additional 1 percent of league revenue which, according to Isidore, would more than quadruple the amount that could be paid out to in injured and disabled former players, and a $5 per ticket surcharge, which would raise even more. The NFL and NFLPA--neither of which will have their leaders, Roger Goodell and Gene Upshaw, respectively, present at tomorrow's hearing--will likely argue that the system reflects the collective bargaining desires of the respective bargaining units and that it is not one that Congress should interfere with it.

The hearing, which will be webcast at this link, features the following witness list:
  • Dennis Curran - Senior Vice President and General Counsel, National Football League
  • Douglas W. Ell - Plan Counsel to the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Players Retirement Plan (Groom Law Group)

It should be a fascinating hearing and I look forward to watching the webcast. For additional information, please contact Jonathan Godfrey, Communications Director of the Judiciary Committee.

Update: The written testimony of the speakers is available at this link (my thanks to the anonymous commentator who provided the link in the comments section).



There was a similar article in the Tampa Bay Tribune a while back, I havent read the Palm Beach Article yet, but if anyone is interested, here is the link to the TT article

Blogger Jimmy H -- 6/25/2007 6:17 PM  

There seems to be no incentive for either party in the collective bargaining agreement to look out for these retired players. If one of the main arguments current retired players make about why they need extra pensions is that modern players make a lot more money than players of old(and they do) then current players have little desire to add the extra money for themselves, and owners have none at all.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/25/2007 8:40 PM  

How does a court of appeals have jurisdiction to hear an appeal from a the decision of a private disability board?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/26/2007 8:48 AM  

I saw some of the testimony today, and the NFLPA lawyer said that some retired players recieve up to 250,000 per year for life. sure doesnt sound like the same kind of numbers used in the Palm Beach Post article. some very compelling testimony from the ex players as well, and not suprisingly very different numbers presented on their side. Does anyone know if the transcript is available for download somewhere?

Blogger Jimmy H -- 6/26/2007 8:12 PM  

You can access the written testimony of the speakers if you click on the individual names included in the Witness List.

The website address is:

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/27/2007 10:18 AM  

Great, Thanks!

Blogger Jimmy H -- 6/27/2007 5:17 PM  

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