Gridiron Greats keep up blitz on Upshaw, NFLPA

June 12, 2007|By Fred Mitchell | Fred Mitchell,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Joe DeLamielleure continued their war of words with NFL Players Association boss Gene Upshaw yesterday, and introduced former offensive lineman Brian DeMarco, 35, as an example of the union's indifference to the medical needs of ex-players.

"This is unacceptable," Ditka thundered at a news conference organized by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund at his restaurant here. "We are past having committees. It's about right versus wrong. Do the right thing. Just do the right thing."

Led by Ditka, DeLamielleure and former Green Bay Packers star Jerry Kramer, Gridiron Greats has been providing financial assistance to needy former players such as DeMarco, who is unable to work and barely able to function as a result of football-related injuries. DeMarco was the 35-year-old player living in Texas referred to in a Sun story Sunday but not identified.

DeLamielleure again took issue with Upshaw, who dismissed DeLamielleure's outspoken advocacy for Gridiron Greats.

"He threatened to break my neck," DeLamielleure said. "I say that he stunk as a union leader for 20 years. He stuck it to us for 20-some years."

Fiery rhetoric aside, the main attraction yesterday was DeMarco, who needed a cane and two assistants to help him stand up and walk to the podium, where he spoke emotionally about how the NFL and the players union have turned their backs on him.

Accompanied by his wife, Autumn, DeMarco described how he and his family were homeless three times because he could not work. He exhausted his savings paying medical bills and was uninsurable after suffering multiple fractures in his spine during his career that ended in 2000.

Fred Mitchell writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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