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.

6 Responses to “The NFL Players Association Fifty Years Ago”

  1. comment number 1 by: Bob Davis

    Hopefully they will be fighting for increased pension benefits for the retired players. Those old minutes show the disdain the owners had then, and I am sure still have to this day!!!
    Bob Davis
    NFL 67-73

  2. comment number 2 by: Larry Hand

    Emmitt Smith said it best last year in that the Current NFL Players have inheritted alot from the Retired Players who started the NFL Players Association. I took a 10% pay cut when I played out my option in 1968. Alot of us had to work every year in the off season because of what we made. Today many players when they sign their first contract have hit the Lottery! I’m not complaining fortunately I played 13 years, and worked each off season. Many of the Retired Players didn’t have the current Safety Nets to fall into compared to current players. Current Players need to get more involved because many of us didn’t have or take the time.

  3. comment number 3 by: Bill Howton

    Most of this letter if false. We never had a meeting in Jan. of 58. Creighton Miller never worked for the Browns. It was George Ratterman, a QB for the Browns, who first contacted Miller about exploring the possibility of a Players Group. In Nov. of 1957 Miller wrote letters to the 12 captains of the various teams and suggested they select a player to represent them. Each player put $50.00 towards paying their reps expenses, and we would all meet in New York during the week of the NFL championship game. Giants vs Bears. Mid December 57
    We meet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. we had 11 player reps, the bears did not send one. We formally formed the NFLPA. Guys like Title-49ers VanBrocklin-Rams Schmidt-Lions Walston-Eagles Pellington-Colts and 6 others. Just for the record, Bill Howton

  4. comment number 4 by: Preston Carpenter

    I remember so well what Bill Howton did in those days. We all were pretty loyal to each other . The Players today know we need protection . I have commented many times –LETS GET ON THE SAME PAGE AS PRESENT DAY PLAYERS. What I mean by this is lets get paid the same amount, times years played time the factor (the age that you retired). This would be a dream come true and would receive the increases that they receive. Most of us waited to receive our pensions. It is a shame that some didn’t. That is terrible. As for the Monthly amount. I think it is $475.00 per month x factor x years played – age at retirement x percentage if wife is receiving the same income as you if you passed away. You can ask the Office for copy of all this stuff. Preston*- thanks for reading

  5. comment number 5 by: Tom

    Are the players who played in the 40’s elibible for a pension. There was no Player Assoc. nor did we pay into any system? Thanks

  6. […] pads and helmets for players. Previously, players purchased their own equipment and uniforms. The NFL Players Association Fifty Years Ago __________________ Critical thought and radical dissent against authority created this nation. […]