Reacting to a rising level of negative blogs by former players, the NFL Players Association has decided to crack down on leaders and chapters of disgruntled retired players.
A memorandum, dated March 30 and issued by Andre Collins, the NFLPA's director of retired players, threatens to dissolve any retired chapter deemed guilty of conduct detrimental to the union's best interests, as well as remove a chapter president.
Bruce Laird, president of the chapter of retired Baltimore Colts, says he got the message loud and clear.
"I think it's a warning over the bow that if ... other people want to speak out for representation in the NFL, it's looked upon unfavorably."
Laird, who played safety with the Colts from 1972 to 1981 and was a union leader, has spent the past three years organizing retired players in an effort to improve pension benefits. He keeps lines of communication open for retired players on an Internet blog.
Abner Haynes, a star running back in the American Football League, and Bernie Parrish, a 1960s cornerback who sued the union in February, also post blogs about the plight of retired players.
Collins did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview, but his memo makes clear his intent to tone down the rhetoric inspired by the retired players' discontent.
The memo said the NFL's board of (active) player representatives passed two significant resolutions at a March meeting in Maui. The first was an amendment that will allow the president of the NFLPA retired players steering committee and another committee member to address the general session at the league's annual meeting.
The second involved Article VII, the punitive section of the league constitution.
It says that Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, or Troy Vincent, the union president, can initiate proceedings to remove any retired chapter president, the retired players steering committee president or a steering committee member who has engaged in conduct detrimental to the NFLPA.
Upshaw and Vincent also could move to close down a retired players chapter whose leaders have engaged in detrimental conduct.
Carl Francis, the NFLPA's director of communication, said the memo was not directed at any one chapter of retired players.
"It's really not our objective to go out and aggressively close chapters," Francis said. "Our goal is to have everyone on the same page that was agreed on by being part of the retired players association."
Retired players, however, have not been on the same page for a while. Even though the union passed a pension increase of 25 percent for vested players before 1982 and 10 percent for vested players after 1982 in the latest collective bargaining agreement, the relationship between retired and active players has steadily deteriorated.
That was a talking point in this year's player rep meetings.
In his memo, Collins said inaccuracies about the pension and alleged lack of support from the NFLPA "stemmed from players making poor pension decisions before they had reached full retirement age."
Laird says that he is appreciative of concessions made by active players, but that he believes more can be done to help struggling and indigent retired players.
"Many of our guys are wealthy, and many are well-off," he said. "But I know hundreds that need help now.
"What we're looking for is to be represented somehow in the process. They can talk about the steering committee, but they do nothing, have done nothing. They don't communicate with retired players."
Laird's alumni group launched The Baltimore Football Club Inc. last January to advocate and raise money for retired players. The organization will hold a benefit for Colts Hall of Famer Art Donovan on Sept. 20, with funds going to retired players in need.
Jim Mutscheller, a member of the Baltimore alumni, allowed that Laird's efforts have put him in conflict with the union.
"Obviously, Bruce has done a lot of things with his blog, and I'm sure it's upset [the union]," Mutscheller said. "If I'm in Upshaw's position, I'd be upset, too. Bruce is making people aware of what the problems are."
Tom Matte, vice president of the Baltimore chapter, also defended the blog.
"I think it's a way to get people to communicate," he said. "We all have questions and the only way to get answers is to write an opinion and throw it out to the other guys."