Mike Ditka, Former Players Ask the U.S. Senate to “Fix” the NFL

WASHINGTON — After testimony Tuesday by retired NFL players about red tape in qualifying for disability benefits related to on-the-field injuries, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the league is “dropping the ball.”

[…]

“My hope is that the league will get its act together here,” Kerry said. “I am prepared, if the league doesn’t do that, to introduce, which I hope we would never have to do, legislation to create some kind of appropriate accountability and oversight.”

[…]

Upshaw said that of 1,052 players who have applied for disability since 1993, 428 (40.7%) have had their claims approved. But he told the committee the work could be streamlined if Congress changed a law that requires the six-member board, which makes decisions on claims, to include three representatives from the team owners and three from the union. Upshaw said it “makes sense” for the players union alone to make the decisions.

[…]

Hall of Famer Mike Ditka: “The system is broke. Fix it. … Don’t make proud men beg.”

The idea that former NFL players and coaches have sought help from the U.S. Senate to act as a referee between former players and the NFL bothers me both as a fan of the NFL and as someone who believes the government should stay within its Constitutional boundaries (I’m especially disappointed in “Iron Mike” Ditka for stooping to such a low level; I thought he was made of sterner stuff). If history is any indication, if Ditka et al wish for the congressional oversight over the NFL, they will likely get their wish. John Kerry seems all too eager to put on the zebra stripes, throw the flag, and penalize the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we have a few more pressing needs that our elected officials should be concerned with such as the war, the VA system, wasteful spending, etc?

As for the former players, they had to know what they were getting into when they decided to play professional football. NFL players both past and present have received the fame, the fortune, and the ability to retire when they are very young. Sure, the players of yesteryear did not earn quite what today’s players do, and perhaps were not marketed as aggressively as today’s players but they each signed contracts and should have known what the risks were. Football ceases to be a game at the professional level (probably even at the college level) because of the increased size, strength, and speed of the players. Players can and do get injured; most feel the toll on their bodies for the rest of their lives.

Given these risks, what should the federal government do? The only branch of the government that could possibly have a role would be the judicial branch. If the NFL somehow violated the terms of these players contracts, the NFL should be compelled to honor those terms by the courts. If this is not the case, then these former players should have no remedy from the federal government.

This does not mean, however; that these players don’t have other means to pay for their medical expenses. The NFL, its players, and its coaches are not hurting for money. If Ditka doesn’t want to “make proud men beg” then shouldn’t he first appeal to his NFL contacts and pass the hat? Surely, there would be at least a few owners, coaches, players and perhaps even fans who would be willing to donate some of their money to such a cause.

As for those who are currently playing in the NFL, if they are concerned with health issues which inevitably will continue long after retirement, they need to address these issues within their organizations and within the NFL. Not one nanosecond of the American people’s time should be spent on this matter.

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  • J

    Just because there are issues on the board such as wars and VA benefits doesn’t mean that other aspects of our society should ignored. This is why we have certain branches of governments on different levels.

    Perhaps if the NFL players knew what they were getting into and don’t deserve long term care, maybe folks that work construction should get anything when a steel beem falls on them. They obviously know it’s dangerous or they wouldn’t wear helmets like football players.

  • J

    Just because there are issues on the board such as wars and VA benefits doesn’t mean that other aspects of our society should ignored. This is why we have certain branches of governments on different levels.

    Perhaps if the NFL players knew what they were getting into and don’t deserve long term care, maybe folks that work construction shouldn’t get anything when a steel beam falls on them. They obviously know it’s dangerous or they wouldn’t wear helmets like football players.

  • http://www.no-treason.com Joshua Holmes

    As for the former players, they had to know what they were getting into when they decided to play professional football. NFL players both past and present have received the fame, the fortune, and the ability to retire when they are very young. Sure, the players of yesteryear did not earn quite what today’s players do, and perhaps were not marketed as aggressively as today’s players but they each signed contracts and should have known what the risks were.

    I hardly think they understood that crippling diseases of both mind and body were coming. And why should they have? No one else knew just how lousy professional football was for your long-term health. Its true cost is just now being understood.

    Given these risks, what should the federal government do?

    Nothing, obviously, since the federal government shouldn’t exist.

    That doesn’t excuse the NFL’s moral responsibility to use its incredible wealth – often heavily taxpayer-funded, let’s be clear – to help those who unknowingly crippled themselves to make football the phenomenon it is today.

  • http://trumpetbob15.blogspot.com/ trumpetbob15

    Ditka says he doesn’t want to beg, but what is he doing in Congress? It pains me to see him begging to Congress. There are probably a great number of players who have injuries. Why can’t they follow Ditka’s lead and do commercials? I agree that maybe the helmet should be passed around, but even when the players weren’t making millions, it was still more than most people were making. And remember, we are talking about players that had somewhat modern equipment. It isn’t like these guys were playing in the old leather helmets. I just don’t have the feeling Ditka and Kerry are trying for in that I am supposed to feel bad enough to want Congress to help them. I wonder if Ditka and the other players realize how many people have injuries in their retirement even though they didn’t make hundreds of thousands playing a game.

  • Norm Nelson

    “the work could be streamlined if Congress changed a law that requires the six-member board, which makes decisions on claims, to include three representatives from the team owners and three from the union.”

    Sounds to me like the camel’s nose is already way under the tent. I guess we have to follow the “you broke it, you buy it” principle. Is that in the Constitution? I’ll have to look it up.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    The biggest problem with the NFL is that it appears the disability ratings system has been improperly (possibly fraudulently) administered and that the NFL has whitewashed the concussion issue by appointing a committee unqualified to tackle the subject who issued an opinion that appears to be at odds with the medical facts. ESPN did a great story about the concussion committee a couple of years ago

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2636795

    The situation doesn’t require regulation, it requires litigation because it appears the owners are not acting in good faith with the players association. Upshaw has done some good things for his players (such as the pension plans, which didn’t exist prior to Upshaw’s tenure…most of the problems Ditka is citing were not caused by the plans but by poor judgment on the retired players’ part), but Upshaw has done a poor job of holding management accountable when they act less than honestly. I also found his comments on the Mike Webster verdict questionable for a man who is supposed to put the interests of the players first…although the structure of the Players Association creates an inherent conflict-of-interest situation (since Upshaw is actually an employee of NFL management, not the players).

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    And I agree with J, just because there are issues going on that some would consider more important doesn’t mean we should ignore all other problems of society in the meantime. That’s just tunnel vision.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    UC:

    All I am saying is that congress should stay within its Constitutional duties (which I know as a practical matter is asking too much). I was just throwing the war and the VA system out as examples of the many issues they should be focused on.

    BTW, thanks for the link. I’ll give it a look. I guess my question would be that if these issues can be litigated, why is Ditka and Co. going before the Senate? It seems like the courts would be a more appropriate venue to handle this.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Stephen,

    Understood. I think this is an issue for the courts to sort out…the NFL has not, in my opinion, been acting honestly or in good faith with the Players Association regarding medical issues.

    As for why Ditka’s doing it, there appear to be a lot of personal and personality issues at play here. Ditka’s a continual malcontent and I think he’s just looking for reasons to gripe. He’d have a legitimate bitch about concussions, disability ratings, about the NFLPA overlooking the need for post-retirement player health care plans, or even about Gene Upshaw’s poor job at communicating with the players he represents (he is horrible at it…especially with retired players). He’d have a semi-legitimate gripe about the lack of guaranteed contracts for players (although I tend to believe that NFL players’ skills are the most replaceable of any pro sport, which is why they have the worst contract situation). He has no gripe with the pension plan. Upshaw created a decent plan where no plan of any kind existed before, it’s fair and financially generous, most of the problems Ditka is bringing up are a result of players taking their pensions early against NFLPA recommendations (a situation Upshaw has recently and quietly remedied).

    You’re right, though, none of these situations call for Congressional oversight, they are best resolved through the courts. Ditka is wrong.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    I wrote about quite a bit of this stuff on my blog a few months ago (after Andre Waters died). I was probably a bit harder on Upshaw than was merited in some instances, although most of the gripes are still valid.

  • Nick M

    Perhaps if the NFL players knew what they were getting into and don’t deserve long term care, maybe folks that work construction should get anything when a steel beem falls on them. They obviously know it’s dangerous or they wouldn’t wear helmets like football players.

    Yeah, except that hardhats are worn in case something happens that can cause injury, whereas football gear is worn because these guys are purposely trying to injure each other.

  • Paul R Jones

    Could we get the Goverment to fix the VA and the lack of health care. We have military vets that served their nation as a warrior and someone wants the Feds to fix the health care for entertainers? Holy molly tlk about concussions wait until an IED blows you up.

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