‘Is There a Veterans’ “Bonus March” in the NFL’s Future?’ (full text)

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September 15, 2011
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September 17, 2011

[originally published 9/13/11 at http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Is_There_a_Veterans_Bonus_March_in_the_NFL_s_Future__9509.html]


by Irvin Muchnick

The blog of Dave Pear, head of Independent Football Veterans, the best-organized group of dissident disabled National Football League retirees, occasionally republishes with permission articles by me which first appeared at Beyond Chron or my own blog. My main interest is in exposing how America’s football-concussion complex is maiming national mental health, especially in our public high schools. While I am not in the business of endorsing the factual claims or conclusions of former professionals in individual cases, it is clear that their collective grievances against the brutally callous, skewed, underfunded NFL retirement and disability system — a joint shame of the $10-billion-a-year league and its Players Association — are a valuable window into this warp of our popular culture.

After reading one of my pieces, Henry Bradley, a defensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns from 1979 to 1982, had an idea. Bradley, now 58, wrote: “I am willing to go to the NFLPA office and protest the way I have been treated. If several thousand people go to their office and express our anger — they will take us serious. We can stay there until something is done while we are still alive. I know what I have lost and who took it from me. I just had some test done and they show my condition is getting worse.”

What Bradley proposes sounds like a variation of the 1932 march on Washington by the Bonus Army — military veterans of World War I, many of them out of work during the Great Depression, who were demanding immediate payment of legislated but long-deferred service bonuses. Since football has become such ingrained civilian-military religion — a point driven home by the 9/11 pageantry surrounding Sunday’s games — the imagery seems appropriate.

In other news … Tucker Montgomery, a high school football player in Kingsport, Tennessee, remains in a coma and on life support, more than a week after surgery to relieve bleeding on the brain following his collapse at a game on September 2.


The plot thickens in the Dave Duerson story, though it continues to be mostly ignored in the football media — which choose to spend all their speculation on things like how quickly Peyton Manning will get back on the field following his latest neck surgery.

Discovery in the upcoming Maryland federal court trial over the NFL retirement plan’s rejection of a disability claim of retired player Andrew Stewart suggests that Duerson inexplicably did not attend the August 2010 meeting of the plan’s board at which the Stewart file was reviewed. Duerson, one of three NFL Players Association trustees on the panel, would commit suicide by gunshot in February of this year. Evidently, Duerson designated a proxy for that meeting, since the NFLPA was represented there by Andre Collins, Robert Smith, and Jeff Van Note, according to Stewart’s attorney.

Yet last month, in a story about the Stewart case by Alex Marvez, pro football columnist for FoxSports.com, the executive director of the NFL Player Care Foundation, Belinda Lerner, said Duerson “had his complete faculties working” and “contributed to the conversation” at the last trustees’ meeting both attended “six months before his death.” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello has confirmed to me that Lerner was referring to the quarterly board meeting of the Bert Bell / Pete Rozelle NFL Retirement Plan, in Boston on August 18, 2010 — “the last meeting Dave attended as a trustee for the Players Association,” Aiello said.

Stay tuned.

Last Thursday NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was the keynote speaker of the concussion session at the second annual Santa Clara University Sports Law Symposium. I attended in order to have a shot at asking Smith directly if he agreed that rejected retirement plan disability claims during Duerson’s tenure on the board should be reopened, in light of the fact that Duerson himself would be found to have had chronic traumatic encephelopathy.

Inexcusably, the organizers of the event canceled the Smith panel’s public question-and-answer session, citing time constraints, and Smith ducked the question when I posed it to him as he was walking out the door. He also has not responded to my follow-up fax and email, whose receipt was acknowledged by NFLPA executive associate Mark Cobb.

Finally, writer Stefan Fatsis reacted angrily to my Beyond Chron column last Friday on the death, from a stroke at 56, of the Tampa Bay Bucs’ Hall of Famer, Lee Roy Selmon. Fatsis’s charming email began, “I was going to tell you to go fuck yourself …”

My full exchange with Fatsis is reproduced on my blog at https://concussioninc.net/?p=4543. My piece here had criticized the passivity of sportswriters on the brain trauma story, and cited what I described as Fatsis having “broken wind” in a joint Slate-Deadspin NFL roundtable to which he contributes. The essence of Fatsis’s message is do-you-know-who-you’re-talking-to? hauteur.

As I matter of fact, I do know who I was talking to. Stefan Fatsis is the esteemed National Public Radio wordsmith whose words, once again, failed him.

Irvin Muchnick’s main website/blog is https://concussioninc.net.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick