George Martin and the NFL Alumni Association advocate successfully on behalf of former players

While many of us, including yours truly, have been shouting and screaming at the top of our lungs for the NFLPA and the NFL owners to “do the right thing” for retired players, George Martin and other key members of the NFL Alumni Association were working both publicly and behind the scenes to make sure the owners knew exactly what retired players wanted … or should I say, “needed.”

George Martin has taken a lot of flak and criticism for not joining the Carl Eller lawsuit against the NFL, but if you remember, the original lawsuit said virtually nothing about role of the NFLPA and its failure to advocate effectively for retired players (you’ll notice I didn’t say “represent” retired players).  It was only recently that a motion to amend the lawsuit was filed asking the court to include the NFLPA as a defendant.

In a May 25, 2011 letter to NFL Alumni members Mr. Martin said,“I want everyone to know that the only reason I have not made a decision on whether or not to support this litigation is because I feel it is necessary, as the Executive Director of the NFL Alumni Association, to give the leaders of this organization and its members the opportunity to comment and provide me with their counsel. Although the individuals that were represented at the first meeting have decided that they are supporting the litigation as individuals and not as the representatives of any organization, I feel it is only prudent to give the members of the association the opportunity to review the litigation and provide me with their thoughts and recommendations.” 

After discussing the litigation with alumni members and the legal counsel for the association, Mr. Martin decided it was not in the best interest of the organization for him to join the lawsuit. In his letter, Mr. Martin correctly noted that “even though I would be speaking on my own behalf, there could still be the perception I am acting on behalf of the organization. With that in mind, the organization is not making any official announcements about the lawsuit until I have had input from you, the members of the Association.”      

As expected, many former players used this decision to say that the NFL owners control the decision-making at the NFL Alumni Association and that the members are “pawns” of the owners. 

Before I discuss the merits of the lawsuit, it is important to remember that the NFL Alumni Association is controlled by a board of directors. They give Mr. Martin his marching orders – by law. 

Yes, believe it or not, the NFL Alumni members and the organization are governed by state and federal laws that give board members a tremendous amount of power and authority over the director of the organization. Like most boards, if the members do not like the direction that their leader is taking them, they have remedies. They can pass resolutions requiring the director to take a specific action and if that action is not taken, they can easily issue a pink slip and find a new director.  In my opinion, the board made the right decision and took no formal action to endorse the lawsuit. At the same time, they did not disapprove of the legal action either. Each member was allowed to make their own personal decision in supporting – or not supporting – the litigation. 

In spite of all the criticism, George Martin has effectively used his position to present a case for improving retired player benefits to the owners. He has met privately with them on many occasions – with little or no fanfare. George does not like to blow his own trumpet and has taken a more diplomatic approach with the league. 

Of course, the director of the NFLPA, DeMaurice Smith, has been actively working to destroy the credibility of George Martin by saying that he was “hired” by the owners and would do nothing to go against their wishes. 

Mr. Smith also spread the lie that George Martin’s salary is paid by the owners, when in fact it is the dues from members of the NFL Alumni that pay his salary.  Mr. Smith’s salary comes from dues paid by active players, so what’s the difference? 

While the NFL and its subsidiary, NFL Ventures, hands out approximately $43 million a year for the right to use 2,000 active player images to promote the NFL, the NFL Alumni Association leaders are accused being “shills” of the owners for getting a measly $1 million annual loan to promote the NFL.  Give me a break!  We should be getting a hell of a lot more money from the owners for all the work we do as ambassadors for the NFL, and for all the work we do in our home communities promoting the NFL through the NFL Alumni chapters. 

The NFL Alumni Association has been pushing the owners to make a substantial increase in their “investment” to former players, and anyone that has a problem with that has been drinking too much of the “D” Kool-Aid. 

Now, getting back to the merits of the Eller lawsuit… 

Most legal scholars agree that there is no obligation by the owners to provide any additional benefits to former players. We all agree that there is a “moral” obligation, and even the NFLPA and NFL have acknowledged that much in their public statements. Nonetheless, the lawsuit has provided a tremendous amount of publicity regarding the plight of the pioneer players that were thrown in the NFL junkyard with little or nothing to show for the scars on their bodies. All retired players owe Carl Eller and the lawfirms of Zelle Hofmann and Hausfeld LLP – headed by Michael Hausfeld – a debt of gratitude for the courage to stand up to the NFL and NFLPA and fight for retired players. 

I personally supported the Carl Eller lawsuit along with many other NFL Alumni members and retired players. I continue to support several of the class-action lawsuits that are currently winding their way through the courts. As I’ve said before, we need to pursue our goals on all fronts -through the media, the NFL Alumni and NFLPA Chapters, the Congress and the courts – including the court of public opinion. 

In this long struggle to achieve what we need, there have been many “voices” and together we have achieved a place at the table – even though the cards were stacked against us and we were playing with a short stack of chips. 

No group or organization can, or should, try to take credit for what has been accomplished. While many retired players may not be satisfied with the final proposal that is agreed to in this CBA, is there any doubt that we have influenced the process and changed the thinking of active players, the owners and the public? 

In one of their final offers to the active players before the lockout, the owners proposed $164 million in pre-1993 retired player pensions. Since then, that figure has grown to $620 million for a “Legacy Fund” – although there have been conflicting reports on the accuracy of that figure.  Nothing is final until the active players ratify the CBA.   

In his meetings with the owners and key members of the NFL Management Council, George Martin put forth specific proposals based on recommendations and feedback he received from NFL Alumni members and the board of directors. Here is a link to that proposal: NFL Alumni Proposals

The NFL Alumni’s Pension Proposal alone was estimated to add $1.2 billion in liabilities for the owners. 

Obviously retired players will not get everything we have asked for -particularly with respect to disability reforms and medical benefits – but without the efforts of so many retired players, it’s safe to say very little would have happened. 

There are a number of other gains the NFL Alumni has accomplished under its current leadership that should also be acknowledged, including: 

  • Improved long-term medical care
  • A new group licensing agreement between the association and members
  • A comprehensive career and business program that aids in the transition of current players through training, education and employment opportunities
  • The Morehouse School of Medicine partnership, which is addressing issues related to head injuries on the field and their connection to mental health
  • The Gay Culverhouse Players’ Outreach Program, which seeks destitute alums to provide much-needed assistance 

I am extremely proud of the collective effort of all retired players for the work they put into our campaign to educate and enlighten everyone about the issues that are important to us.. That includes all the groups and organizations that have been actively getting the word out to active and retired players, the media, congressional representatives, and the public.  I’m not going to name them all because if I leave one out I will regret it.  You know who you are … and I hope you know that you’ve made all the difference. 

As a member of the NFL Alumni Association, I am looking forward to continuing the work of the only national organization that is governed by former players and is focused on helping retired players. The work of the NFL Alumni goes far beyond the CBA agreement. The officers and the members are committed to providing a long-term strategy to improve the lives of former players. 

We will build it … and I encourage all retired players to join us in that effort.  

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About Jeff Nixon

Jeff was a first team consensus All-American from the University of Richmond in 1978. He is 7th in NCAA history with 23 career interceptions. Played for the Buffalo Bills 1979-1984. Led the team with 6 interceptions in Rookie Year. Holds Bills record for 4 takeaways in a single game - 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tied Bills record with four consecutive games with an interception. After 5 knee surgeries Jeff retired from pro football in 1985. He worked for 13 years (1988-2000) as the Youth Bureau Director for Buffalo and Erie County. He has worked for the past 11 years as the Youth Employment Director for Buffalo. Plays guitar and was voted best R&B guitar player by Buffalo Nightlife Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted on July 22, 2011, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Andrew Provence

    Thank you for this article Jeff.

  2. Has anyone figured out the possibilities of “head trauma injuries” that might have come from players slapping each other on the helmet after a successful play or game ? There seems to be too much celebration in the game today when a player does what he’s paid to do. Play the game and add up the score at the end…. Now that the “end is in sight” has anyone listed the attorney fees someone has to pay for all those “meetings of discussion”…and travel cost back and forth “from somewhere to nowhere for nothing”. Being robbed for years by that SOB Upshaw makes his thievery look like pittance…..

  3. Jeff- Thank you very much for your timely articles and inciteful commentary throughout the CBA process. Your resolve and dogged determination leaving the pedal to the metal kept us informed on a daily basis and was extremely important in giving all retirees a platform to voice our opinion, either positively or negatively, on the ongoing negotiations. I strongly feel our collective participation made a difference in the benefits package that was eventually agreed upon by the NFL Management Council and NFLPA. Our voices were finally heard and the old Upshaw mantra of ‘delay, deny and hope they die’was thankfully rendered obsolete.

  4. It amazes me that the NFL & players can raise millions for numerous charities. How much more can we raise for breast cancer? I thinks thats fantastic a round pf applause for the efforts, but why when it comes to the brotherhood of the NFL what about the guys who helped pave the way with strikes, abused medical practices by team doctors,, horse shit pay. If it weren’t for the Reggie White settlement where would players be ? I know its about gotta get mine now! Same as it was when all the sell out players in 1990 were jumping ship to NFL properties while taking money away from the union! Listen I did well playing made some great money but there are guys out there that the league should help out. Mackey plan is great but 88,0000 for a nursing home. Does that increase with inflation costs? If I have full blown dimensia please take me out to sea. NFL “Not For Long” these players will be deceased and I guess the issue goes away.

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