Hundreds of Current NFL Players to Participate in Gridiron Guardian Sunday

Posted December 22nd, 2007 by RetiredPlayers

According to a press release from the Gridiron Greats organization, hundreds of current NFL players will donate a portion of their December 23, 2007, game checks in conjunction with Gridiron Guardian Sunday.  The donations will be used to fund financial aid and social services for retired NFL players in need.  One hundred percent of the players’ donations will be used to aid retired NFL players.

Offensive tackle Kyle Turley of the Kansas City Chiefs created Gridiron Guardian Sunday and has pledged to donate his $25,000 game check from the Chiefs-Detroit Lions game on December 23.  Turley wanted a way for current NFL players to give back to the players that came before them.

“When I launched this project I had no idea what kind of participation it would get.  I am humbled and proud that so many of my colleagues around the league have reached out to help,” said Kyle Turley.  “I coordinated this effort to help provide medicine, medical care, clothing, food and shelter to retired NFL players who are in dire need.  I felt I had to do something to help.  I am so appreciative of the support this project has gotten.  In this holiday season of giving, it is heartwarming to know that we will be able to impact the lives of so many of our brothers in need.”

Many players from around the NFL have signed up to participate in the effort including: Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Ryan Cook, Marcus Johnson, and Ben Leber, of the Minnesota Vikings; Larry Johnson, Jared Allen, Tony Gonzales, Ty Law, John Welbourn, Eddie Kennison, John Carney, and Donnie Edwards of the Kansas City Chiefs; Ephraim Salaam of the Houston Texans; Kawika Mitchell of the New York Giants; Darwin Walker of the Chicago Bears; Jacob Bell and Rich Scanlon of the Tennessee Titans; and Marques Douglas of the San Francisco 49ers.  Hundreds of others have also committed but choose to remain anonymous.

“I feel like this is the right thing to do; players and owners today all prosper because of the men that came before them.  Many are suffering through no fault of their own,” said Matt Birk of the Minnesota Vikings.  “This is an epidemic that is affecting retired players and their families, from all eras; I see this as a humanitarian issue.  When I came into the league I was told that the NFL is a brotherhood and we would always be part of that brotherhood, so it’s only right for us to help our brothers.”

Are the NFL Disability Plan’s “Neutral Physicians” Truly Neutral?

Posted December 13th, 2007 by RetiredPlayers

The NFL and NFLPA announced changes to the disability plan that they claim will streamline the process for players seeking disability benefits.  In a December 12, 2007, article in The New York Times, Gene Upshaw outlined six changes to the disability plan as a result of a review conducted by an outside company.  The union and league claim the intent of the changes is to speed up both the application and appeal process of the NFL’s disability plan.  None of the six changes address the fact that only two percent of former players currently receive any type of NFL disability benefit even though the NFL is widely considered the most brutal major American professional sports league.

Once a player has submitted an application for disability benefits, he is sent for an “Initial Medical Examination”.  The player is then examined by a “neutral physician” who provides a written report on the players condition.  According to page 10 of the NFLPA “White Paper”, “These physicians are called neutral physicians because they are appointed jointly by the Retirement Board members appointed by the Players Association and the NFL.” The “neutral physician’s” report is then reviewed by a two person Disability Initial Claims Committee who then make a decision on the applicant’s claim.

If an applicant is dissatisified with the decision of the Disability Initial Claims Committee, he can then appeal the decision to the six member Retirement Board.  Upon appeal, the applicant is sent to at least one more doctor for examination before the appeal is presented for a vote by the Retirement Board.  If there is a deadlock vote of three Retirement Board members voting to award a disability benefit and three voting against awarding the benefit, the decision is “almost always” decided by the review of a Medical Advisory Physician.

According to pages 11 and 12 of the NFLPA “White Paper”, “If the dispute is over a medical issue, such as whether a player medically is substantially unable to work, either side (the player-appointed trustees or the management-appointed trustees) can send the player to one of the Plan’s top, pre-approved, neutral three doctors. These doctors are called “Medical Advisory Physicians(“MAPs”), and their medical decisions are binding on the Retirement Board. This final review will almost always resolve any deadlock between voting trustees.”

Are these physicians truly neutral toward the applicant merely because the members of the Retirement Board have appointed a doctor to be a “neutral physician”?

Dr. Bernard Bach is one of three “Medical Advisory Physicians” for the NFL disability plan.  According to page 12 of Dr. Bach’s curriculum vitae, he once worked as a team physician for the New York Giants.   Team physicians are employees of team owners.  Why would the three union trustees appointed by Gene Upshaw allow a doctor, who was once employed by an NFL team owner, to make a “binding” decision on a player’s application for disability benefits?  Can this doctor truly be considered “neutral” toward a player applicant if he was once employed by a team owner?  Wouldn’t it be prudent to appoint a doctor without this potential conflict of interest to serve as a “Medical Advisory Physician”?

Page 39 of Dr. Bach’s résumé states that he made presentations at NFL Disability Training Program’s.  Is there any special training needed to rate the level of disability of a former NFL player, as opposed to a disabled employee in another industry?  What type of training creates a system where only 2 percent of all retired players are able to qualify for any type of NFL disability benefit?  We are hoping these are questions that Congress will want answered.

While changes to the NFL disability plan are a vital step toward correcting the existing problems, it is even more important to have the proper people in place to implement and administer the plan.  These are additional issues that must be addressed.

  • While appearing on the HBO show CostasNow, tennis legend John McEnroe said he was inspired by Kansas City Chief Kyle Turley’s Gridiron Guardian Sunday initiative and will donate $25,000 toward the cause. McEnroe’s action prompted former NBA player Charles Barkley, who was also appearing on the show, and show host Bob Costas to match the donation.
  • Several former and current Minnesota Vikings players held a press conference on December 11, 2007, to discuss the issues that retired NFL players face.  More active players, including Minnesota Vikings players Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Ryan Cook, Marcus Johnson and Ben Leber, announced plans to donate a portion of their game checks in support of Gridiron Guardian Sunday.  Others on the list of NFL players who will donate include Chiefs guard John Welbourn, Houston Texans offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam and New York Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell. Earlier, Kyle Turley said that San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, Chiefs running back Larry Johnson and Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzales also were going to take part.

What Percentage of Retired Players Receive NFL Disability Benefits?

Posted December 6th, 2007 by RetiredPlayers

An earlier post addressed the number of retired NFL players eligible to apply for NFL disability benefits, we now move on to address the number of retired NFL players actually receiving NFL disability benefits.

The Honorable Linda Sanchez is the Chairwoman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law.  On June 26, 2007, in her opening statement for the oversight hearing on the National Football League’s system for compensating retired NFL players, Chairwoman Sanchez noted “half of all players retire because of injury, sixty percent of players suffer a concussion, at least one quarter of players suffer multiple concussions, and nearly two-thirds suffer an injury serious enough to sideline them for at least half of a football season.”  Chairwoman Sanchez also added, “The NFL is considered to be the most brutal major American professional sports league.”

With the NFL considered “the most brutal major American professional sports league”, there seems to be a remarkably low number of players receiving NFL disability benefits.   According to page six of the NFLPA “White Paper”, only 317 players currently receive any type of NFL disability benefit.  NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw states “there are over 13,000 retired NFL players alive today.” Using these two numbers we can calculate that only 2 percent of retired NFL players receive any type of NFL disability benefit.

  • On December 4, 2007, ESPN reporter Peter Keating penned an article titled, “Congress questions NFL record-keeping on disabled players”.  The article updates the progress of the Congressional Research Service report.  “Neither the NFL nor the NFLPA keeps data on players who retire due to injury, a simple fact that I find amazing,” Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who chairs the House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, told “Sometimes you don’t keep track of something when you don’t want to know what the answers are.”

NFL MVP and Two Pro Bowl Players Support Turley on Retired Players’ Issues

Posted December 4th, 2007 by RetiredPlayers

Current Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Kyle Turley was a guest on The Jim Rome Show today, December 4, 2007.  Turley spoke about his participation in “Gridiron Guardian Sunday”, when he will donate his entire game check from the December 23, 2007, Chiefs – Lions game to the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund.  The assistance fund provides financial assistance and coordination of social services to retired NFL players.

In a letter to be distributed within all NFL locker rooms, Turley has asked other players to join him in donating a portion of their game checks on “Gridiron Guardian Sunday”.  On The Jim Rome Show, Turley revealed a trio of high profile current NFL players he has spoken with who will join him in support of retired players’ issues.  The players he named are 2006 NFL Most Valuable Player LaDainian Tomlinson, Chicago Bears six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, and Minnesota Vikings five-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.

“I’ve got a tremendous response from guys around the league, guys I’ve contacted, personal friends.  They are all in support of this issue.  We just played the Chargers over the weekend, LaDainian and a bunch of the linemen came up to me and they are going to be in support of this issue.  Many guys feel strongly about this, Matt Birk in Minnesota, Olin Kreutz in Chicago.  The names are starting to come out,” Turley told host Jim Rome.

Both Turley and Birk have been outspoken critics of current NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw.