Every NFL veteran from the days before free agency remembers the near-constant labor strife that led to strikes for such things as pensions, improved player health care and higher salaries.
Until the owners effectively broke the union in 1987 by using replacement players, those strikes were often effective, only once leading to a meaningfully shortened season, the nine-game season of 1982.
Now, those old players are on the warpath once more, using the leverage they have as legends of the game in order to try to once again improve the lot of people whose health has been compromised for the rest of their lives after playing the sport.
The new “union” is the Hall of Fame Board, and the ex-players said they will boycott all future Hall of Fame inductions until they have more assurance that their health care needs will be met after they leave everything they have to give on the field before a constant medical diet of CTE monitoring, physical therapy and the generous application of pain medication just to cope with the aftermath of playing the world’s most brutal team sport.
They issued their demands in a letter Tuesday to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Pro Football Hall of Fame President C. David Baker.
Filed to ESPN: In a letter sent to Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and David Baker, Pro Football Hall of Famers said they would not attend the annual hall of fame induction ceremony until they received health insurance and an annual salary that included a share of league revenue. pic.twitter.com/IRkJ29EKcl
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) September 18, 2018
And this is no small caucus of fringe Hall of Famers, either.
Their chairman is Eric Dickerson. Their ranks include Marcus Allen, Mel Blount, Derrick Brooks, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Richard Dent, Carl Ellard, Marshall Faulk, Mike Haynes, Rickey Jackson, Ronnie Lott, Curtis Martin, Joe Namath, John Randle, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jackie Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Kurt Warner and Sarah White, the widow of Reggie White.
Put those guys in a time machine from their playing primes and you could win a decade’s worth of Super Bowls.
And while it’s unclear whether the benefits the board is fighting for are meant for all former NFL players or just the ones who make the Hall of Fame, they’re not dancing lightly around this issue.
The players pointed out that in order to be eligible for health care for life for retired players in Major League Baseball, all you need to do is play in a ballgame in the Show.
You could be a September call-up who hits .143 and never plays another big league game or you could be someone like Bert Blyleven, who played what seems like forever. Once you’re in the club, you’re in the club.
The players also denounced the $620 million settlement the league agreed to with retired players and other measures taken as “little more than cynical public relations ploys that fail to help those who desperately need it.”
The players also point out that if the NFL can afford to pay Goodell $40 million a year and set aside as much as $1 billion to construct the Hall of Fame Village, the league can find money to send a player whose knees are a jigsaw puzzle to the doctor.
The NFL is celebrating its centennial in 2020. The players hope that by threatening to boycott all those celebrations of league history, they can force the league to the negotiating table the way so many of those guys did when they were in their primes.
And unlike 1987, there are no replacement Hall of Famers for the league to use as weapons to fight back.
Update: Kurt Warner said Tuesday that his name was “mistakenly” added to the letter. He said he supports benefits for retired players, but he wants those benefits to go to all retired players, and not just Hall of Famers.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.