Retired players make case for benefits boost

Pension increases would need approval from current players

July 26, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

Presented with hard facts and cold numbers, retired NFL players from Baltimore and Washington moved one step closer last night to a resolution of their bid for increased pension benefits.

It may not be the resolution they wanted, however.

After listening to an independent actuary and a five-person delegation from the NFL Players Association, there was just a glimmer of hope for the retirees.

"There was value in hearing what they had to say," said Bruce Laird, former Baltimore Colts safety and leader of the Baltimore chapter of retired players. "The most important thing is that these things can be changed. The active players can give us more [in benefits], but will they? Would it be prudent business-wise? Probably not."

What Laird and others found out is that the distribution of pension benefits is subject to change in a vote of active players. Retired players could get more, but it would be at the expense of current players.

"We have to get together to see if under the right circumstances we can persuade players now to put off some of their benefits to give us more," he said.

Tom Lowman of Bolton Partners Inc., presented actuarial figures in a closed-door meeting at Goucher College. Doug Allen, assistant executive director of the NFLPA, and Andre Collins, who heads the retired players department of the union, also attended.

"The fact they're here means we've got their attention," said Mike Curtis, former Colts linebacker. "Now we have to drop from the Web page and hell raising to get a numbers cruncher that can do the numbers for us."

Even as retired players debated actuarial numbers last night at Goucher, another NFL retiree was moving along a parallel track to provide assistance for those in need.

Jerry Kramer, a Hall of Fame guard with the Green Bay Packers from 1958 to 1968, has called a news conference tomorrow in Anaheim, Calif., to announce plans for an auction of sports memorabilia.

Kramer's goal is to raise at least $1 million for a newly created fund that will help indigent ex-players. The auction, named "The Shirt Off Your Back," will be held a week before the 2007 Super Bowl.

His fund, the Gridiron Great Relief Fund, was started with money he received for auctioning off a replica of his 1967 Super Bowl ring in May. Information about the fund and the auction is available at jerrykramer.com.

"Jerry felt like it was incumbent on him and others who had the wherewithal to do something [for needy retired players]," said Jennifer Smith, project manager for Kramer & Company, a marketing firm.

The idea for the fund grew out of a strange twist of events. Kramer's first Super Bowl ring was stolen some 25 years ago, but he recovered it last spring when it turned up in an auction. Upon getting the original back, Kramer decided to auction the duplicate and use the money - $22,000 - to start a fund for retired players.

"Our approach is very grassroots," Smith said. "We're not delving into [the battle between retired players and union]; we know the pension and disability stuff is messed up. The question is, how long will it take to fix it? These guys don't have time.

"Jerry wants to get some aid to these people right away."

Kramer is asking retired and active players to donate mementos to the cause. He has teamed with Mastro Auctions Inc., and retired players in the venture.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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