NFL Alumni: Where do we go from here?
Now that the NFL and NFL Players Association have reached an agreement on how the $620 million Legacy Benefit will be distributed to former players, it’s time to reflect on what we have accomplished and what still needs to do be done to reach our goals of improving the lives of former players.
The NFL Alumni’s advocacy efforts on behalf of former players established some specific goals that were outlined in the Campaign 2011. They included the following priorities:
- Legacy Fund and Rookie Wage Scale that would provide substantive increases in alumni pensions and benefits
- Increase in pensions for those who played prior to 1993
- Increase in pensions for players that took early retirement and the Social Security Election
- Establishment of Group Health Insurance Plan
- Substantive reforms to the NFL Disability Plan including the administrative and adjudication process
- Additional benefits that assist alumni in their post football career life
- Group licensing programs and marketing programs that compensate retired players for activities that promotes the NFL
What have we accomplished?
First and foremost, the substantial increase in the Pension Plan for pre-1993 players was a significant victory for retired players. This was the number one goal expressed by retired players and the membership of the NFL Alumni. Our push to get the owners and the players to establish a rookie salary system that reigned in the enormous salaries and bonuses was instrumental in producing a revenue stream to fund the Legacy Benefit. We were also successful in helping the players that took early retirement and the social security election.
Could the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to a larger contribution? Of course, but that would have reduced the pool of money available for active player salaries and benefits. This was DeMaurice Smith’s first CBA negotiation and he needed to bring home the bacon for the active players. That was his number one job, because he represents them. Let’s face it, if he didn’t, his days would have been numbered. He didn’t just bring home the bacon, he brought home the whole hog! Every single benefit in the new CBA had substantial increases for active players.
As for retired players, we still have issues that were not adequately addressed in the CBA, including our calls to remove the 15 year deadline to file for T&P disability, establishing a COLA (cost of living adjustment) for the Pension Plan and providing group health insurance for retirees. Nonetheless, there were some reforms that should be mentioned. In particular, the new disability plan language states you do not have to prove that your disability arose from injuries sustained while playing in the NFL. That was a hurdle that has now been knocked down.
Even though we still don’t have a COLA built into our Pension Plan, the establishment of the Legacy Benefit will increase our pensions which in essence will act as a COLA.
If you are 55 years of age and are in a position to wait until 65 years of age, by all means do it. Your pension will be actuarially adjusted and increased by more than 2.5 times what it would have been if you took it earlier. For example, if your regular Pension and Legacy Benefit will total $2,500 at age 55, it will increase to over $6,250 a month at age 65. Well worth the wait!
In my opinion, the biggest disappointment in the new CBA was our inability to get the NFL and NFLPA to provide group health insurance for the former players that need it. There’s an important distinction here. Keep in mind, there are many former players that don’t need health insurance because they are covered by an employer policy or Medicaid and Medicare. But what about the men that are not covered by an employer policy and are unable to obtain one due to football related injuries that make the cost of health insurance unaffordable? This is one area that we all need to continue to advocate for and push for inclusion into the NFL Player Care Foundation’s program and services. In the new CBA, they are now calling this the Former Player Life Improvement Plan. I can’t think of a better way to improve a former player’s life than to make sure they have basic health care insurance.
I should note that the active players were able to continue their 5 free years of medical insurance after retiring and they also maintained the HRA (Health Reimbursement Account) which, for eligible players can cover premiums and other basic medical costs long after the 5 years have expired. In addition to that, they were able to get the owners to agree to allow them to continue to be covered under the current NFL group health insurance policy after they retire, thereby making it much more affordable to them.
Could the NFL and NFLPA have allowed former players to join the NFL’s group health insurance plan? What would it cost? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that the current retired player lawsuit against the NFLPA seeks to address the medical needs of retired players. Maybe the 22 million in annual funding that the NFLPA has at its discretion for former players can provide some type of group health care insurance coverage for retirees.
Speaking of medical needs, another victory for retired players was achieved even before the CBA was signed. George Martin and the NFL Alumni spearheaded the effort to establish a LTC (Long Term Care) Insurance program that has approved the applications of 1,335 former players and 232 wives of former players. Hopefully, most of us will never need this type of insurance. It is only available in the event that we cannot take care of ourselves, but as with most insurance policies, it’s nice to know that it’s there if we need it.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of former players that have been denied the LTC coverage because, according to the insurance company, they have pre-existing conditions that disqualified them. As I’ve stated before, there is a gap between the LTC is program and the 88 Plan. Some players are too injured – physically and/or cognitively – to qualify for the LTC insurance, but not enough to qualify for the 88 Plan. We need to find a way to fill that hole.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about another key goal that the NFL Alumni achieved; the NFLA Career & Business program. This program has assisted younger NFL retirees with the transition into society after their pro football career. The program includes Continued Education, Internships, Financial Advise, Diverse Player Activations, Resume Writing, Interviewing Skills and other courses that prepare former players for the world of work and starting their own business.
One of the most important goals of the NFL Alumni was achieved when George Martin announced that GLA (Group Licensing Agreements) are now available to all retired players. This is a major step in the right direction, but in order for us to maximize the power and effectiveness of the GLA, we need all retired players to execute the agreement. There is strength in numbers and we need to take advantage of that.
Although we have been slowly chipping away at it, we still need to obtain additional property rights from the NFL in order to effectively market players, products and merchandise. Increasing our revenues through the sale of merchandise and apparel to the public is an area that will eventually give the NFL Alumni the earning power it needs to become totally independent of owner funding. At present, we are only selling merchandise to our own members and that will need to change if we expect to have any significant increase in revenues.
In closing, I want to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving.
Lets’ not forget that there are a lot of folks in our communities that are having a difficult time making ends meet. Many families are served by the activities and events that take place through the local Chapters all across our great nation.
Do what you can to get involved in your Chapter activities during the holidays and let’s make a positive impact in our communities.
“I don’t think you ever stop giving. I really don’t. I think it’s an on-going process. And it’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life”
– Oprah Winfrey –