In my support of retired National Football League players who have been screwed by the pension and disability system, I try to get beyond populist cheap shots. After all, we fans can imagine that some of the on-field heroes of our youth did not prove to be off-field financial geniuses when their careers ended. Also, not even the best-intentioned safety nets are perfect.
But I have to say that the NFL Players Association, which has been crowing about the Legacy Fund that “it” negotiated in the recent collective bargaining agreement, keeps making it awfully hard not to take sides.
Many weeks after the contract talks were concluded, commissioner Roger Goodell is on what seems to be a listening tour of various retiree critics, trying to arrive at a formula with the NFLPA on how this half-billion-dollar fund will get distributed.
Obviously, such a sum of money is not chicken feed. By the same token, you can hardly blame the retirees, who feel they have been misled before by the union, from resisting the message that they shouldn’t be worrying their pretty little heads. The devil is always in the details, and whether a $176 monthly pension check gets increased to $1,000 or $1,500 – I’m just throwing wild, hypothetical numbers out there – makes a difference in people’s lives.
We’ve all heard about the game-within-the-game. Well, this is the negotiation-within-the-negotiation. NFLPA boss DeMaurice Smith, playing bump-and-run coverage against dissident retiree wideouts with no help over the top, is getting his usual F for communications, just like his predecessor Gene Upshaw. When all is said and done, this could very well translate into an unsatisfactory grade on the substance, as well.
Dave Pear, of Independent Football Veterans, says the latest vaguely worded information on the Legacy Fund suggests that it will wind up saddling beneficiaries with a “Hobson’s choice.” He says the bottom line, via NFL benefits lawyer Dennis Curran, is that pre-1993 players will have to calculate whether it is better to wait until they are 65 to take their pensions under the Bert Bell / Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan, along with a delayed “legacy benefit,” or to take the pension immediately at a reduced monthly amount in return for an immediate legacy payout.
Am I the only one who thinks it’s less than helpful for this community of jocks – who have shaky actuarial expectations of making it to age 65 in the first place – to have to hire moonlighting consultants from Price Waterhouse in order to interpret what they might be getting, if and when the NFL and the NFLPA decide they’ve worked things out to the extent that they can let them start getting it?
This is a very rich league, folks, the richest in sports history. Why can’t it show its people the money?