NFL pledges $10M to aid retired players

Funds to help pay for medical costs

Pro football

October 25, 2007|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN REPORTER

The long arm of the NFL has reached a little deeper into those expensive suit pockets and come up with $10 million in additional funding to help retired players pay for joint replacement surgeries and other medical necessities.

That donation, announced yesterday by commissioner Roger Goodell, more than doubles a pot of $7 million targeted for retired players in July by an alliance of NFL properties.

That's not all.

Harold Henderson, chairman of the NFL management council, said the league is close to providing subsidized assisted living for needy players, is working to streamline the disability process, and expects to have in place a social worker who will help retired players solve long-term issues.

"I think they're beginning to understand the needs of the retired players are serious," said Harry Carson, a Hall of Fame linebacker.

After contentious debate about retirees who felt forgotten, the NFL started down the rehabilitation road last spring. The league implemented the 88 Plan - named for Colts Hall of Famer John Mackey - to assist retired players with dementia, and has since launched a cardiovascular screening and education program.

Owners unanimously approved the new funding at a league meeting in Philadelphia.

"I think it signifies that the owners and clubs have made a very big statement on their commitment to a leadership role in taking care of the former players who are in need," Henderson said. "I think they are very concerned that people don't have the means to take care of their basic needs. And while this sounds like a big number, it's meant to be seed money, to stimulate and spur other resources."

In a September meeting of alliance members - the NFL Players Association, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Alumni Association - and about a dozen former players, Goodell and Henderson invited the various factions working on behalf of retired players to join the effort.

"We hope this fund will be supplemented by additional contributions," Henderson said. "We hope some of the foundations and organizations that claim to be working for retired players will join us and contribute to the unified effort.

"We hope, and have assurances, that retired players will do fundraising functions."

Bruce Laird, a former Colts safety and president of Fourth & Goal, a national advocacy group based in Baltimore, has been working to help retired players since June 2004, when his group raised money for Mackey.

"I'm very pleased that the NFL has listened and reacted to the message from retired players across the country," Laird said. "And I'm proud of my teammates for having the integrity and resolve to look after their own."

The NFL has formed a nonprofit organization to administer the program and distribute funds. The organization's board members will come from the various entities that make contributions.

Said Ravens president Dick Cass: "There were holes in the support system we laid out, and people were falling between the cracks. I think the 88 program helped. They can get benefits without showing their dementia was related to football."

Henderson, who is overseeing the assistance programs, said the joint replacement program will begin before the year ends. He said the league has agreements with at least six hospitals and is working to increase that to 12 or 14.

Who qualifies?

"If they're vested [four-year] veterans, they're entitled to get it if they need it," Henderson said. "I'm not worried about people getting replacement knees that don't need them."

Carson considered it another step in a long process.

"I appreciate the NFL and the owners stepping up," he said. "There's a lot of need out there. [But] I don't think we are at a point where we can rest and be happy about what's happening. I think there's a whole range of outstanding issues that still need to be addressed."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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