Smith Shares Vision For Current and Former NFL Players at Super Bowl Press Conference

Posted February 4th, 2010 by RetiredPlayers

The NFLPA held their Super bowl press conference today and made announcements of particular interest to retired players of the National Football League.  NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was joined on stage by many current and former players including NFLPA President Kevin Mawae and Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.  Early in the press conference Sanders stated that, “There could be better unity between current players and former players.”

DeMaurice Smith was quick to acknowledge the rift stating that “when it comes to benefits for pre-1993 players the current system is not working.”  He also recognized that active and former players compete over the same pool of money used for benefits.  This announcement came prior to any mention of the currently strained labor negotiations between the owners and players that have filled the headlines lately.  It is hoped that addressing this issue first at the press conference is indicative of the NFLPA’s new dedication to the players who helped build the NFL into the $8 billion industry that it is today.

nflpa-logoJust as quickly as Smith acknowledged the rift between current and former players he stated his plan to begin addressing the issue.  First, he announced that the Groom Law Group will no longer defend the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan when it is sued by players seeking benefits.  The Groom Law Group, a major source of frustration for many retired players, currently represents both the NFL and NFLPA against retired players suing the NFL’s disability plan when they are denied benefits. DeMaurice Smith announced the change will formally come next week and that the NFLPA has not yet chosen a firm to replace the Groom Law Group.

Next Smith announced that he was calling for NFL owners to contribute two percent of their profits to a legacy fund for retired players.  He stated that all benefits are funded through the active players portion of the revenue and called for NFL owners to share in the responsibility.  “They (NFL owners) sell legacy, but they don’t pay for it, ” Smith stated.

During the question and answer period following the announcements several reporters focused their questions on the subject of retired players.  In response to one of the questions Smith stated that it would be an “immoral decision” for today’s players not to acknowledge the players who came before them.

Smith then announced more changes to come to the NFL disability plan.  He wants someone to assist the two members of the disability initial claims committee in their assessment of NFL players’ disability applications.  Smith stated, “I want that person to be a medical professional.”

He stated he wants that medical professional to understand the role of multiple head and orthopedic injuries and how they impact players once they leave the NFL.  This leaves little doubt that the NFLPA will acknowledge concussions and the lasting effects of traumatic brain injuries suffered as an NFL player as NFL injuries for the purpose of evaluating disability applications.  It is hoped that something can be done to correct the fact that this was not the belief when so many retired players were wrongfully denied benefits for their football related head injuries in the past.

It was refreshing to hear these words coming from the leader of the NFLPA regarding the union’s relationship with retired players.  We hope that the union will evaluate its three retirement board representatives with the same scrutiny in which they examined the Groom Law Group.  The NFLPA went to great lengths in choosing DeMaurice Smith as their leader.  The same effort should go into finding the best three NFLPA representatives to manage the near $1 billion in assets of the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan.

Update on Former Bengal Reggie Williams

Posted May 28th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

The Cincinnati Enquirer recently updated the health condition of former Bengals’ linebacker Reggie Williams.  Seven months ago Williams was fighting to save his right leg that had been ravaged by football injuries and infection. Doctors feared that an extensive bone infection and a surgical wound that refused to heal would force them to amputate Williams’ right leg.  The surgical wound left a hole in the linebacker’s leg that doctors filled using a flap of his calf muscle.  Williams endured this procedure not once, but twice.

Reggie Williams is assisted by physical therapist Steve Murray as he exercises by the East River while undergoing treatment for his chronic knee injury at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York in 2008.  Associated Press file/Stuart Ramson

Reggie Williams is assisted by physical therapist Steve Murray as he exercises by the East River while undergoing treatment for his chronic knee injury at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York in 2008. Associated Press file/Stuart Ramson

“I remember my orthopedic doctor kidding about (my knee) earlier when I first started getting a lot of blisters, which signaled the problems I was about to have.  He basically said a gastroc flap looks like a hamburger sitting on your knee,” Williams said.  “I ended up with a Double Whopper.”

Today, the crutches are gone and so is the immediate threat of losing his leg.  There is still plenty to remind the 14-year NFL veteran and Dartmouth graduate of what he has endured.  Without a right calf muscle it is difficult for him to lift his foot.  After a year on crutches, the right side of his body has atrophied to the point that he can’t walk down stairs or ride a bicycle.  Williams will have to take antibiotics for the rest of his life.

In 1986, Reggie Williams underwent microfracture surgery on his knee to attempt to extend his career.  He played three more seasons in the NFL after the surgery.  Doctors have operated on Williams’ knees 17 times, including replacing both of his knees.  In late 2007, Williams left his job as an executive with Disney when he could no longer endure the pain from his football related injuries.

Last June, Williams estimated his medical bills were around $500,000 and more bills have accumulated since that time.  Even though his medical insurance through Disney covered a good portion of his medical care, Williams still owes a substantial amount in out-of-pocket expenses.  The NFLPA and NFL Management Council denied Reggie Williams application for NFL disability benefits.  Last year, Williams applied for medical expense reimbursement through the NFL.  He was awarded $5,000 in November of 2008 and still has not received the check.

Throughout this ordeal a positive attitude has helped ease some of the pain.

“I sort of developed a mind set about not being negative about anything,” Williams said. “I feel very fortunate to have my leg and to be of sound mind and good character.”

Reggie Williams is the perfect example of a man who excelled both on and off the football field.  He played on battered knees as an NFL player with the blessing of the team medical staff and the promise of lifetime medical care for his football related injuries from the NFL.  Instead of continuing to serve as a vice president at the Disney Corporation, he spends three hours a day rehabbing the right side of his body.

We posted a link to a video of Reggie Williams in a previous story.  The story is truly inspirational and worth a second look.  You can view the video by clicking HERE.

New NFLPA Executive Director: “Union Has a Fiduciary Duty to Retired Players”

Posted April 24th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

Newly elected NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith spoke with reporters in New York today and said the union has a fiduciary duty to retired players, which is in stark contrast to comments from his predecessor Gene Upshaw, who famously said he only represented active players while collecting union dues from retired players.

This should be a vote of confidence for retired players.  It is the first time in years that anyone in the NFLPA has accepted the union’s duty to retired players.  DeMaurice Smith is a lawyer who is well versed in the meaning of fiduciary duty.

In November of 2008, prior to Smith joining the union, a jury found the NFLPA guilty of breach of contract and fiduciary duty in its representation of retired players.

Smith also said that the NFLPA had not made a decision on whether to drop the appeal of the retired players $28.1 million verdict against the NFLPA.

NFLPA Elects New Executive Director

Posted March 15th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

The NFLPA has elected a new executive director.  After presentations by Trace Armstrong, David Cornwell, DeMaurice Smith, and Troy Vincent on Saturday, NFLPA player representatives had question-and-answer sessions with the candidates on Sunday.  Hillard Heintze Strategic Security Advisors performed background checks on the candidates and reported the results to the player reps.  Following the question-and-answer sessions, each candidate had a chance to present a fifteen minute closing argument to prove they were deserving of the position.

The vote was taken and KMH LLP, a Honolulu accounting firm, tallied the votes. 

New NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith

New NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith

Patton Boggs attorney DeMaurice Smith was elected as the NFLPA’s executive director.  Smith needed 17 of the 32 player representatives’ votes to be declared the winner.  He reportedly received the majority vote on the first ballot.

Smith was called an outsider to the football world and a long shot candidate by some.  After winning the majority vote on the first ballot, Smith obviously proved to the player reps that he has what it takes to lead players into the next round of collective bargaining.

Retired players should be willing to give Smith a chance to heal the currently fractured relationship between the union and retired players.  This is the first opportunity for that to happen in a very long time.

Update: DeMaurice Smith was elected by a unanimous vote to the executive director position.

Second Update: is reporting that Smith received 20 of 32 votes.  Troy Vincent received six votes.  The remaining six votes were split between David Cornwell and Trace Armstrong.  A motion was made to make the outcome unanimous and the motion carried.

Player Reps Should Initiate New Search Process This Weekend

Posted March 12th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

This weekend the NFLPA’s Board of Player Representatives will hold their annual meeting in Maui.  Obviously, the biggest task at hand for the player reps is electing a new NFLPA Executive Director.  The 32 reps are set to vote for the Gene Upshaw’s replacement after hearing one hour presentations from each candidate and then meeting with the candidates in smaller “breakout” groups.  This will be the first and only chance for player reps to hear from the candidates before casting their votes.

The search process for the next Executive Director has been extremely controversial.  An outside search firm was hired and a six member search committee narrowed the list of candidates to three.  During the process rumors have swirled around the two candidates who are former players.  There have been allegations of conflicts of interest, failed business ventures, and even criminal associations.  A congressional inquiry looked into the integrity of the NFLPA’s search process.

Image from SportsBusiness Journal

Image from SportsBusiness Journal

Joseph Yablonski, a longtime outside attorney for the NFLPA, was hired by the union to investigate alleged misconduct by former NFLPA President and Executive Director candidate Troy Vincent.  Yablonski’s objectivity has been questioned because of his 25 year relationship with the union.

“The fact that the NFLPA has hired an attorney to investigate one of the final candidate’s actions should raise red flags all over the place, including both internally and externally,” said Ian Pulver, who worked for more than a decade as the associate counsel of the NHLPA and now is an NHL agent. “The smoke signals emanating from the search process lead me to believe that the players may be wise to scrap the entire process and start over.”

In what some have viewed as dissatisfaction with the search process, attorney David Cornwell was reinstated as a candidate after receiving the endorsement of three player representatives.  Cornwell was previously eliminated as a candidate by the search committee in January.

With $8 billion dollars of NFL revenue on the line each year and 32 NFL owners determined to get concessions from the union in the next round of CBA negotiations, the players need to prove that the majority of the membership supports the next Executive Director.  NFL owners may look to take advantage of the players if they aren’t completely behind Upshaw’s replacement.

With the lack of input from the NFLPA rank-and-file, a highly criticized search process, and an incomplete investigation into one of the candidates, the NFLPA should scrap the current search.  They should start fresh with a search that includes the input of the entire membership rather than just a select few.

Allow all players to learn about the qualifications and positions of the candidates.  Recognizing what’s at stake for players, you would expect a thorough evaluation of the four candidates to last more than a weekend.

It seems the current search process has focused more on satisfying the union’s administrative staff than serving the NFLPA’s dues paying membership.  NFL owners are well aware that players have been unable to unite and stage a successful work stoppage or endure a lockout in the past.  Leadership is critical for the players, but so is their unity.  The best way to unite the players is to allow all of them access to the process to choose the best candidate.  That candidate will ultimately lead them into the next round of collective bargaining.

Former Player Examines How NFL Player Reps Are Elected

Posted March 11th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers
Ross Tucker played six years in the NFL and now writes for Sports Illustrated

Ross Tucker played six years in the NFL and now writes for Sports Illustrated

Former player Ross Tucker, who played six years in the NFL, is now a writer for  In his latest article, Tucker examines the flawed method of how the NFL’s 32 player representatives are elected.  The player reps are the only people who have a vote in choosing the NFLPA’s next Executive Director.   According to Tucker, reps are often voted in based upon their popularity in the locker room as opposed to any substantial campaign platform.  In fact, Tucker says that when he was nominated to serve as a player rep he wasn’t allowed to present his platform to his teammates.  The article indicates some player reps are more interested in an all-expense paid vacation to Hawaii than serving the NFLPA’s membership.  He suggests the NFLPA’s annual meeting be moved from Hawaii to Wichita, Kansas.

To read Ross Tucker’s article click HERE.

NFL Retired Players’ Class Action Appeal Could Take Years to Resolve

Posted March 11th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

Dan Kaplan of the SportsBusiness Journal reports that the appeal of the retired players $28.1 million dollar verdict against the NFLPA could take years to resolve.  The lawsuit stems from the NFLPA’s group licensing program for NFL retirees.  Ron Katz, the attorney who represented 2,062 former NFL players in the lawsuit, said a decision on the appeal would not be made until 2011 or 2012 due to the number of cases pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The NFLPA has said it will appeal the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court.  If that happens the appeal process could run into 2013.

If the verdict is upheld the NFLPA would be responsible for interest on the $28.1 million while the appeal is pending.  They could also be responsible for the additional attorneys’ fees incurred by the retired players during the appeal process.

The final outcome of the case may not be decided for years.  The next NFLPA Executive Director may prefer to settle the case and not deal with the negative publicity stemming from the mistreatment of former NFL players.  It seems the one candidate least likely to settle the retired players’ verdict is former player Trace Armstrong.  Armstrong testified for the defense in the case.

An article regarding Armstrong’s candidacy for the NFLPA Executive Director position appeared in SportsBusiness Journal on March 9, 2009.  At the end of each story readers are permitted to leave comments.  Retired players’ attorney Ron Katz left the following comment:

“As co-counsel for the retired players in their $28,100,000 jury verdict against the NFLPA last November, I hold the strong opinion that Mr. Armstrong’s testimony as an NFLPA witness was not credible to the jury and that his selection would deepen the artificial divide that Messrs. Upshaw, Allen, and Armstrong created between active and retired players. There should be absolutely no conflict between active and retired players because all active players will become retired players in a short time and many, unfortunately, will have to deal with a disability system that ignores serious injury and illness.”

The NFLPA solicited retired players to sign the group licensing agreements for over fourteen years.  Not a single former NFL player was ever paid under the retired players’ group licensing program.

Is the NFLPA Retired Players Department Relevant?

Posted March 5th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

The current state of the NFLPA Retired Players Department has left many retirees looking for representation elsewhere.  In recent years the membership of many chapters of the NFL Retired Players Association has dropped dramatically. Less than 175 of the NFL’s 13,000 retirees attended the NFLPA Retired Players Convention in Puerto Rico in 2008.   This has led to many retirees questioning the relevance of the organization. Andre Collins, the director of the retired players department of the NFLPA, did not attend a single session of  the three week class action trial regarding retired player licensing.  Also absent was NFLPA Retired Players Steering Committee President Jean Fugett.


NFLPA Retired Players Steering Committee President Jean Fugett

The NFLPA has stated that every dollar that goes to retirees comes from the pockets of today’s active players.  This has lead to what many perceive as an adversarial relationship between NFL retirees and current players.  The Retired Players Department at the NFLPA offices has done little to create a relationship between today’s and yesterday’s players.  Many retirees feel that if they had a forum to discuss these issues with current players that it would be a positive for both groups.

Retired Players Steering Committee President Jean Fugett will attend the active players annual meeting in Hawaii next weekend.  Fugett will appear to represent the NFL’s 13,000 retirees.  In reality, Fugett only represents the less than 175 NFLPA Retired Players members who voted in the Steering Committee election in Puerto Rico.

During his trip to Hawaii, Fugett has said he will not discuss the current lack of communication between active and retired players.  Nor will he discuss the possibility of resolving the retired players class action lawsuit as several steering committee members and chapter presidents have requested.

Fugett will not carry the message of the majority of NFL retirees to the active players in Hawaii.  Active players should realize that while Fugett speaks in Hawaii he is representing roughly one percent of the NFL retired player population.

The relationship between active and retired players needs to improve.  Open, uncensored communication is the first step in the healing process.

The speech Fugett gave to active players in 2008 can be viewed by clicking HERE.

Another Executive Director Candidate Emerges

Posted March 4th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

The National Football Post reports attorney David Cornwell, who was once eliminated as a candidate for the NFLPA Executive Director position, is now back in the race.  Cornwell received the written endorsement of at least three members of the NFLPA’s Board of Representatives.  Section 4.04 of the NFLPA Constitution allows any number of candidates to be eligible for election if they have the endorsement of three player reps. The NFLPA’s six man search committee eliminated Cornwell from contention in January.

The NFLPA hired Pat Richter, a former classmate of Interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen at the University of Wisconsin, to serve as a consultant throughout the search process.  Many feel that Berthelsen and the NFLPA’s outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler have been steering the search process toward their desired candidate.  That candidate is believed to be former NFL player Trace Armstrong.

Armstrong now works as an agent for Tom Condon at the Creative Arts Agency.  Condon served as Gene Upshaw’s agent while Upshaw was Executive Director.  Condon also sits on the NFL Disability Plan’s Board.  Armstrong is viewed as the candidate most willing to maintain the status quo of a union that has been the subject of  much criticism in the recent past.

It’s good to see some independent thinking by the NFLPA’s player representatives.  It shows that some have become dissatisfied with the current NFLPA power structure and haven’t bought into procedure of the six member search committee. The NFLPA membership has been left out of the selection process of the next Executive Director.  The candidates for the position have been unable to create a campaign platform to share with the NFLPA’s membership.  Instead, the election will take place at the NFLPA’s Annual Meeting of 32 player representatives and their alternates without the NFLPA membership ever having heard a word from any of the candidates.  For the player reps, this will be the first opportunity for many of them to hear from the candidates.

It is hard to believe that the NFLPA with over $290 million in assets would not finance a more democratic search process which included more of its membership.  The annual meeting runs March 13th to 15th in Hawaii and the election for the next Executive Director is scheduled to take place during that time.

The NFL Players Association Fifty Years Ago

Posted February 26th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

Gene Gedman (back left) was a team representative for the NFL players association in 1958

The blog of former Oakland Raider Dave Pear recently published the minutes of an NFL Players Association meeting from January 24, 1958.  The meeting minutes show that ten players were in attendance along with players association attorney Creighton Miller.  Miller was working for the Cleveland Browns when two Browns players approached him about helping form a players association.  The thirty-three year old attorney agreed to work with NFL players to improve their working conditions, salaries, and benefits.  Creighton Miller played football at Notre Dame but never played professional football.  Instead, he attended Yale Law School.

The NFL Players Association was formed in 1956 but the majority of team owners refused to recognize the group.  The association laid the foundation of fighting for the rights of NFL players.  To demonstrate some of the early battles between labor and management, the ten players participating in the 1958 meeting felt that progress was being made now that most teams were providing shoulder pads and helmets for players.  Previously, players purchased their own equipment and uniforms.

Bob Walston, who played 12 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, complained that his teammates “feel that it is unfair that the players must sign away workmens compensation benefits while playing ball.”

NFL players of this era played football with ineffective shoulder pads and without the benefit of face masks on their helmets.  These same players were forced to sign away their workmens compensation benefits.  This left them with few options for health care.  Private health insurance will not cover work related injuries for professional athletes.  These athletes paid for their medical expenses related to NFL injuries which occurred while wearing little protective equipment.  Currently, many of these 70 and 80 year old retired players struggle to pay for the medical care related to their football injuries with poverty level NFL pensions.

The fight for better pensions is nothing new to NFL players.  In 1957,  NFL players were empowered after the Supreme Court ruled in Radovich v. National Football League.   The court stated that the NFL was subject to antitrust laws.  It was the threat of further antitrust litigation that motivated NFL team owners to finally grant players pensions once they turned 65 years old.  In 1958, players were trying to convince owners that proceeds from one preseason game should go toward player pensions.  Many owners were hesitant to even contribute this amount.

Pensions were not the only thing on players mind in the early days of the NFL.  Players lobbied teams to buy better protective gear.  With the lack of effective protective gear, players hoped to live to age 65 when they would finally be eligible to collect their pensions.

Cleveland Browns owner Paul Brown had a strong dislike for the players association.  So much so that he had the players association attorney, Creighton Miller, removed from a team picture that was taken while Miller was a Cleveland Browns employee.

“What Paul Brown did with the photo shows how most of the owners felt about the players association back then,” Creighton Miller told The New York Times in 1982.

To view a copy of the minutes from the 1958 meeting of the NFL players association click HERE.

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