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 –

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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 November 23, 2011, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hello Jeff! My name is Cedric W. Brown. I played in the league from 77 thru 85. I am interested in taking advantage of the resume writing program. Were do I go to obtain this benefit?

    thx

  2. Jeff, thank you so much for your letter and insights into the legacy fund. I had six other emails about how the money would be divided up and yours was the simpliest and the correct solution to managing the fund. We need more guys like you! Bob Windsor

  3. Jeff, What advances do they have for us that played and contracted 1949-1952 ? Any increase in the Rozelle plan ?

  4. fernando smith3 minnesota vikings

    It great that we as team are still fighting 4 quater. For that win. God bless

  5. Jeff…
    My question is… what qualifies to be eligible for NFL pension based on when I played. I’ve heard numerous issus… from 5 years, 3 years, etc. What is a “credited” season. See my NFL life below.

    I played in the NFL for 3 years and a fourth year in Canada. I was an undrafted rookie in and made the Bengals team in 1975 (played in 15 games including playoff game), traded to Chicago in 76 got cut and then was picked up by the New York Giants in 1976 (played in 6 games), went to camp and was last LB cut by NY Giants in 1977 but then was eventually picked up with Pittsburgh Steelers (played 4 games plus playoff game)… went to Steelers camp in 1977… again last LB cut… and then got the chance to play in CFL with Toronto Argonauts for rest of 1978 season. I choose not to go back to Toronto Argonauts in 1979 due to being a father and investing in apartments and decided to start a career in commercial real estate.

    I’m 58– in good health (praise God) but would like some clarification based on new agreement… do I qualify or not to be included in the pension program. In addition, what happens to the many preseasons… and games played and if someone gets a career ending career in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd year… do they not qualify.

    Thanks
    Brad Cousino
    Bengals / Giants / Steelers
    513-276-1212

    PS: this is not necessary to post if you want to just email me or call me on where I can find out exactly my position is on this matter… Thanks Jeff

  6. Hi Jeff, I am vested with 5 years. When I took my pension at 65 years old. I deferred part of my monthly payment to insure that if I die before my wife she would continue to receive a portion of the total that I am now receiving.
    Did I read that the new Legacy Fund would provide my wife with the full payment that I will receive under the new agreement if I die before my wife?
    If this is the case then would I receive the new monthly payment, PLUS that amount that was being withheld for my wife? Thank you for all your concers and effort in trying to get answeres to all of us who relay on you. THANKS

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