- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A group of retired NFL players gathered at the National Press Club this morning to rail against a league disability benefits system that they contend is broken and unresponsive to the needs of players hurt during their careers.

At a press briefing held by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, a nonprofit group set up to help retired NFL players in need, several players said the NFL has failed to acknowledge the plight of its older retirees, and has made filing for and receiving disability benefits an arduous and complicated process.

Former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Brian DeMarco, who needed help walking to the podium, said he has been homeless three times in the last five years, and at one point was living in a storage unit with his wife and infant child. While he acknowledges receiving thousands of dollars in assistance for rent and food over the years, he said he has been unable to work, and that the NFL has failed to even consider his disability claim.

My back is crushed, DeMarco said through tears. It hurts to stand, sit, lay down. I have nerve pain and my elbows have been destroyed. The bottom line is the system is broken. It”s not just affecting the players, it”s affecting their families.

Former Minnesota Vikings guard Brent Boyd, who receives social security disability benefits for concussions sustained during his career, said the NFL has rejected his disability claims.

They’re just a scorch-and-burn, win-at-any-price type of organization when it comes to disability, he said.

The wife of Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas explained how her late husband used a special tool to button his shirts, because injuries sustained during his career made his right hand nearly useless. Sandy Unitas said her husband never received disability payments before his death in 1999.

What we”re talking about is not a want, it”s a desperate, desperate need, she said.

Several former players, as well as representatives from the NFL and its players union, are scheduled to testify about the NFL”s retirement benefits system this afternoon before the House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law.