Examining the Retired NFL Player’s Class Action Lawsuit

A class action lawsuit recently filed by a group of 28 former NFL players, including 25 Pro Football Hall of Fame players, is giving ex-players hope for benefit improvements beyond what’s detailed in the new collective bargaining agreement. 

The lawsuit was filed by the law firm of Hausfeld LLP against the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, and two of the plaintiffs in the Brady v. NFL action, alleging that the NFLPA had no right to negotiate with the NFL on behalf of retired players because this right belonged to the Carl Eller I plaintiffs. 

A copy of the complaint was published in a September 13, 2011, Yahoo! Sports article.

It details how retired players were excluded from meetings between the League and the Brady plaintiffs, and presents the reasons the new Eller class believes the original Brady plaintiffs gave the Eller I plaintiffs the full right to negotiate with the NFL on behalf ex-players. Eller II plaintiffs also allege that the NFLPA was involved with negotiations after they decertified the union, that they helped finance the Brady lawsuit, and they intentionally interfered with the prospective economic advantage of retired players.

The lawsuit contends that even though former player benefits have been improved, they do not sufficiently address existing needs, stating, “The shortfalls and inadequacies in the retirement system are, in part, the result of the NFLPA sacrificing the interests of the rights of retired NFL players to the benefit of active players both within and outside of the context of the CBAs with the League.” While the current ten-year agreement includes approximately $900 million in benefits for former players, the complaint maintains an earlier NFL proposal amounted to $1.5 billion in ex-player benefits. That’s a $600 million difference from what the NFLPA ultimately agreed to. 

Apparently the NFLPA thought that the attendance of Cornelius Bennett and Jim McFarland at bargaining and mediation sessions would provide adequate representation for former players, and the complaint cites a “tweet” from Nolan Harrison, the NFLPA’s Senior Director of Retired Player Services, which said, “[a]t each session the interest of former players have been well represented by hall of famer Cornelius Bennett [and] others.” 

The problem with this is that Cornelius Bennett and Jim McFarland are members of the NFLPA Former Player’s Executive Committee, and as such, they spoke only on behalf of their members. Unfortunately, that left out the interests of a large number of former players that are not members of the NFLPA, including many Hall of Famers that have gone on record denouncing the NFLPA as their representative at the bargaining table. 

In the “Prayer for Relief,” where the plaintiffs tell the court what they want from the defendants, the complaint demands a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages.  

One published report quotes Mike Hausfeld as saying the goal of the suit is “to readjust the deal to better reflect the interests of the retirees which would’ve been done by the retirees themselves… This deals with the rights of retirees and how they were shortchanged by a process that negotiated their rights without input from them and then reached an agreement without the retirees’ right to be heard.”

If certified as a class action that is ultimately won by former players, it will be interesting to find out how the deal would be readjusted. In my opinion, if the lawsuit has a chance to provide us with benefits that are better than what is currently offered in the new CBA, then it’s hard to imagine why any former player would be against it. 

As I have said before, we need to use every available tool in our bag to ensure our voices are heard loud and clear. If that means court action, then so be it! Even if the plaintiffs do not prevail on this lawsuit, or the other lawsuits that have been recently filed, at least they are bringing the issues of retired players to the attention of our elected and appointed leaders, the media, the U.S. Congress and the public at large. 

If there is one thing that football taught us, it is this: Never give up until the game is over.

There is still time on the clock.

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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 September 26, 2011, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. If suit is allowed to proceed as class action, what would be the process for the Eller II group to contact and communicate with all Retired/Former players, divide the award, and assure accuracy in the amount of award for each player?

  2. This needs to be done as long as it is for the benefit of all and not just a few.

  3. Jeff- Thanks for the timely information regarding the impending litigation versus the NFLPA. During the CBA negotiations retired players received a letter from the NFL Management Council outlining their proposal for an attractive benefits package for pre 93′ retirees. They stated their proposal would increase our current pensions approximately 60%, which for most of us, was a God send. Needless to say, this proposal was flatly turned down by DeMaurice Smith. When the CBA was eventually agreed upon, that figure was dramatically lower than what was proposed initially by the NFL. This fact should be totally unacceptable to all vested pre 93′ retirees who placed complete faith in our union team negotiating in good faith for us. Apparently, the phrase “in good faith” did not apply to the retired rank and file, only active players. As far as being represented by Harrison, Bennett and McFarland, I would prefer to be represented by retired players who are voted in by their peers instead of former players who are appointed to their positions. I propose a pre 93′ retiree be installed through a vote among pre 93′ retirees to represent us in any future negotiations concerning any proposed enhancement of our benefits. Carl Eller, Joe DelaMeilure, George Martin or Bruce Laird would represent us far better than the current retired appointees.

  4. The whole idea for the Legacy Fund was to get money now for those in need. This should not take so long. Hell some of these guys aren’t getting any younger. They should get moving on this ASAP

  5. Well dad is going in for surgery soon and i sure hope he arround to see something happen he’s 87 and that is scary to have surgery at that age, HAY DeMaurice Smith CAN YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT ? YOU SHOULD CRAW IN BED WITH DREW BREES , sad thing they dont under stand if it was not for the players from back in the day they would’nt be making the millions they make today !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND THATS A FACT !!!!! DAD IS MORE OF A MAN THEN BOTH OF YOU PUT TOGETHER .

  6. Mike Augustyniak

    Jeff,
    I just read the possible proposal from Carl Eller and the Retired Players Association. From what I can figure out as a 4 year vested player (81-84) I would receive $114/month if the NFLPA proposal happens OR $94/month if the RPA proposal happens. Is this correct?
    From my perspective both suck… but the RPA sucks worse.
    I guess there is only so much money to go around…but $94 a month…Really?

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