- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2007

After months of public criticism of their lack of support for retired players, the NFL and the NFL Players Association formed an alliance yesterday with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Alumni to help those with medical and financial woes.

“This will be the first time that there will be a joint effort, one single place to go to talk about issues as they relate to retired players,” NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw said after a meeting in the District with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Hall of Fame president Steve Perry and 11 retired players. “Our No. 1 issue is identifying the people in need. We have a forum in which we can address those needs. We’re beyond all the name calling. We’re now in the process of doing.”

NFL Charities, the NFLPA’s Professional Athletes Foundation, the Hall of Fame’s Enshrinee Assistance Foundation and the NFL Alumni Dire Needs Charitable Trust had combined assets of roughly $27 million in 2005. They allocated about $11 million in assistance that year.

Those efforts have been criticized as too little by a number of former players, leading to conflicts with Upshaw, himself a Hall of Fame guard. In response, Goodell and Upshaw invited former players like Jerry Kramer and Frank Gifford to join them in the alliance.

“We had all the stakeholders, [including] people who had taken issue with what had been done for the retired players,” Goodell said.

Kramer, for one, is upbeat about the newfound alliance.

“I’m very encouraged,” said Kramer, who started his own rapid assistance program after being dismayed by the slow response of the NFL and the NFLPA. “We made some significant progress. I don’t think we can solve all the problems in one fell swoop, but we have started. The attitude of everyone here today was positive and intent on solving the problems and working together with another. It’s so critical for us to come together as a family.”

Kramer acknowledged that the most vociferous critics of the NFL and the NFLPA, such as ex-defensive back Bernie Parish, likely would remain unhappy. But NFL Charities vice president Jack Kemp, the former head of the American Football League Players Association, called the alliance “a tremendous step in the right direction.”

For starters, the alliance wants to focus on helping players with joint replacements, cardiovascular screening and care, assisted living and disability benefits and funds for those in dire straits.

Goodell will seek more funding from the NFL’s 32 team owners, while Upshaw will do the same with the 1,700 players. Kemp said that several fund raisers also are in the works. It’s unclear where the alliance will be based or whether it will have an executive director.

Hall of Famers Willie Lanier, Steve Largent, Merlin Olsen and Billy Shaw also were in attendance, as were former players Cornelius Bennett, Ron Johnson, George Martin and Brig Owens and NFLPA president Troy Vincent.