- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

The NFL owes its old and broken-down players nothing.

That is just the way it is in business.

You negotiate your pension and medical benefits at the time of your employment.

You do not settle into retirement years later and cry, “No fair.”

To be honest, you can cry all you like, but no one is apt to feel your pain.

Mike Ditka felt compelled to cry on Capitol Hill last week, when he voiced frustration with the system before a House subcommittee.

Give Ditka this. His motivations are altruistic. He is not concerned about his financial situation. He made a good chunk of change in coaching. His concern is with his fallen buddies from the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the NFL was something far less than the $6 billion-a-year industry it is today.

And that is the rub for those former players who have serious health and financial issues. They played in a more modest NFL. They played at time when baseball was the national pastime and boxing still mattered to a large segment of the American population. They played at a time when football players routinely held jobs in the offseason.

Playing a professional sport was not a ticket to life-long solvency in those days. You played a sport for however many years, and then you entered the job market if a team did not have a position for you.

If you were smart, you strengthened your retirement nest egg in the workaday world before you became familiar with arthritis or body-part replacement surgeries.

Ditka can trot out all kinds of heartrending tales, of this player undergoing countless surgeries to repair a neck, a spine and a hip or that player receiving a $126.85-a-month pension.

There is the sad story of Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster being penniless and living in his pickup truck at one point before dying at age 50 in 2002.

Perhaps Webster is a good place to ask: What did the NFL Players Association owe Webster after his playing days were done?

That is not a simple question, for Webster could have had a place in the NFL if he had wanted it.

Webster actually finished his career with the Chiefs before becoming the team”s assistant strength and conditioning coach. Webster did not serve long in that capacity; friends and former teammates say he had trouble adjusting to life after football.

Story Continues →