80 Hall of Fame Players Sent a Message to Veteran Players

By Jeff Nixon
Sep. 08, 2015

On April 19, 2010, just three (3) days before the NFL draft, I posted a letter on the website - Fourth & Goal Unites. The website was administered by Bruce Laird and the Baltimore Colts Alumni organization.

It was a tremendous honor for me to be the official blogger at Fourth & Goal and write articles about retired player issues. I wrote a letter (below) that was signed by 80 Hall of Fame players. You can see their names at the bottom of the letter. I want to thank Joe DeLamielleure for assisting me in getting each of the guys to authorize the use of their name and their endorsement of the message.

The letter was emailed to key veteran players and NFLPA Executive Committee members and player representatives. It was also emailed to the leadership at the NFL, NFLPA and Former Player Chapter Presidents at the NFL Alumni and NFLPA. It was also sent to thousands of former players that had been asking our most influential alumni - our Hall of Famers - to get more vocal on a particular issue of vital importance to former players.    

I thought I would post this letter again, just to remind everyone what former players are capable of doing when we unite on an issue. In this case, we had 80 Hall of Fame players that came together to ask for the institution of a Rookie Salary Scale - and the use of savings generated from that scale to increase pre-1993 player pensions and veteran player income. The money for the two benefits are identified on page 32 of the 2011 CBA Article 7, Section 9 under the title “Rookie Redistribution Fund

As you know, we accomplished all three of our goals:

• A Rookie Salary Scale was instituted in the very next draft;

• The “Legacy Benefit” increased pre-1993 player pensions

• The “Veteran Player Performance-Based Compensation Pool” increased veteran pay

There is more work that needs to be done, but I want to thank all of the Hall of Fame players that came together on this critical issue.  Some of the HOF'ers didn't even receive an increase in their pensions because they played after 1993. That, my Alumni brothers, is what you call sacrificing for the good of the team. They understood that the needs of the many - outweighed the needs of the few!  If you don't see a particular HOF member on this list, it does not mean they were not in favor of the message. In some cases, me and Joe D just couldn't reach them for one reason or another.    

Sadly to say, a number of these great men are no longer with us.

Here is their letter:

Dear NFL Veteran Players:

On April 22, 2010 the NFL will conduct its annual draft and once again the 32 players selected in the first round will become multi-millionaires before they have played a single down in the NFL.

In last year’s draft, the first 32 players selected received $462 million in guaranteed bonuses. Another $100 million in signing bonuses was paid out to players drafted in rounds two through six. This does not include salaries or other performance bonuses that these players will potentially earn through the duration of their contracts.

It is disappointing that this system of rewarding unproven players with guaranteed bonuses has been allowed to continue for another year. Player agents are also reaping the benefits of the current system and do not want to see it change. If bonuses were standardized, there would be no need for a player agent to get paid for negotiating that part of a contract. Last year player agents received approximately 14 million just from the bonus portion of the 32 rookies selected in the first round. We are concerned that player agents might have some influence over the NFLPA and its decision to continue this system. There was a clear conflict of interest when Gene Upshaw was at the helm and was represented by player agent Tom Condon. We hope that DeMaurice Smith is not influenced by the power, privilege and perks that these agents and their agencies have wielded in the past.

As you know, the NFLPA and the NFL were unable to come to an agreement on increasing retired player pensions. The NFL proposed a new rookie wage scale for this year’s draft, with players paid a fixed amount based on draft slot. The NFLPA countered with its own rookie salary proposal, but tied it to an extension of the current CBA. The savings generated from either of those proposals could have been used to boost retired player’s pensions by $100 million annually. There were also discussions on using some of the savings generated by the rookie wage cap to improve veteran player salaries. We think that is a proposal worth fighting for and we would be honored to be part of any Team that includes that in their Game Plan.

The NFLPA has stated that it wants to increase pre-1993 player pensions by establishing a “Legacy” fund, but they want the NFL owners to fund it with “new” money. We have been told by the NFLPA that if there is no “new” money there will be no increase in retired player pensions or benefits.

It is apparent that the NFLPA does not want the money to come out of the 60% of revenues that owners have been providing, because under the current system any money that is set aside for retired player benefits takes away from what active players can give themselves in salary and benefits.

While we are grateful for the previous increases to retired player’s pensions, the donations to the PAT and Dire Need Funds and the new benefits provided through the NFL Alliance, we know that more can be done to help the pioneers of the NFL, particularly those players that had no meaningful NFL Disability Plan and have had to struggle with medical bills that have negatively affected their finances. The current NFL Disability plan does not cover most of the former players and as such, a substantial increase in the pension plan is the best way to address the “quality of life” for professional football players that laid the foundations of the NFL.

We are concerned that instead of increasing the Pension Plan to help ALL vested players, the NFLPA has established other “retirement type” accounts and benefits that are only available to post-1993 players. Five free years of medical benefits after retirement and a Health Reimbursement Account are wonderful benefits that post 1993 players enjoy. The Annuity Plan and the Second Career Savings Accounts have approximately 1.5 Billion in assets. Those plans have only been in effect since 1998 and 1993 respectively, but the combined assets of those two plans are already greater than the assets of the NFL Pension Plan – which has been in existence for over 50 years! The NFL Pension Plan has approximately $927,400,000 in assets based on the most recent reports.

You can see why NFL owners are reluctant to provide “new” money. If the NFL owner’s payments to the Annuity Plan and Second Career Savings Plan had been put into the Pension Plan to help ALL vested players, we would not be having this discussion today and we would not be writing this letter.

Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not NFL owner money that goes into the Pension Plan and benefit packages. DeMaurice Smith recently said “individual owners and teams have spent exactly nothing on retired player benefits.” Mr. Smith may not like a portion of the salary cap money going towards retired players instead of active players, but as the Executive Director of the NFLPA he should at least understand where the money comes from. The fact is all retirement funds for both active and retired players come from owner money allocated under the league’s salary cap. In 2008, this amounted to $23 million in benefits per team, or $736 million. Only $80 million of that $736 million is currently being paid out to retirees – or their beneficiaries - because they have died. Former players are dying at a rate of about 130 per year. Let’s help those that are still with us live with the dignity and pride of knowing that veteran players have stood up for them.

To his credit, Mr. Smith has stated that “We have a moral obligation to the retired players, we have a fiduciary obligation to the retired players. That obligation has to be both in words and deeds. If you fail in either one, you fail.” Nonetheless, we all know that actions speak louder than words.

Please tell DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA Executive Committee and your individual team Player Representatives that you want them to follow through on their fiduciary obligation to the retired players.

The NFL owners and the NFL Players Association have discussed ways to pay for a Pension plan increase and a veteran player wage increase.

We don’t care how they get it done........we just hope that you, as veteran players, can convince them to get it done!

Sincerely,

PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME PLAYERS

Anthony Munoz - Class of 1998

Art Donovan - Class of 1968

Art Shell - Class of 1989

Bart Starr - Class of 1977

Billy Shaw - Class of 1999

Bob Brown - Class of 2004

Bob Lilly - Class of 1980

Bob St. Clair - Class of 1990

Bruce Smith - Class of 2009

Carl Eller - Class of 2004

Charlie Sanders - Class of 2007

Charlie Taylor - Class of 1984

Dan Dierdorf - Class of 1996

Dan Fouts - Class of 1993

Dan Hampton - Class of 2002

Dan Marino - Class of 2005

Dave Casper - Class of 2002

Dave Wilcox - Class of 2000

Dwight Stephensen - Class of 1998

Elvin Bethea - Class of 2003

Eric Dickerson - Class of 1999

Floyd Little - Class of 2010

Fran Tarkenton - Class of 1986

Franco Harris - Class of 1990

Fred Biletnikoff - Class of 1988

Fred Dean - Class of 2008

Gale Sayers - Class of 1977

Gino Marchetti - Class of 1972

Harry Carson - Class of 2006

Herb Adderley - Class of 1980

Jack Ham - Class of 1988

Jack Youngblood - Class of 2001

Jackie Smith - Class of 1983

Jan Stenerud - Class of 1983

Jerry Rice - Class of 2010

Jim Kelly - Class of 2002

Jim Taylor - Class of 1976

Jim Langer - Class of 1987

Joe Delamielleure - Class of 2003

John Elway - Class of 2004

John Hannah - Class of 1991

John Henry Johnson - Class of 1987

John Stallworth - Class of 2002

Kellen Winslow - Class of 1995

Ken Houston - Class of 1986

Lawrence Taylor - Class of 1999

Larry Little - Class of 1993

Lee Roy Selmon - Class of 1995

Lem Barney - Class of 1992

Len Dawson - Class of 1987

Lenny Moore - Class of 1975

Leroy Kelly - Class of 1983

Mel Blount - Class of 1989

Mel Renfro - Class of 1996

Mike Ditka - Class of 1988

Mike Haynes - Class of 1997

Mike McCormack - Class of 1984

Mike Munchak - Class of 2001

Nick Buoniconti - Class of 2001

Paul Hornung - Class of 1986

Paul Krause - Class of 1998

Randal McDaniel - Class of 2009

Randy White - Class of 1994

Rayfield Wright - Class of 2006

Raymond Berry - Class of 1973

Rod Woodson - Class of 2009

Ronnie Lott - Class of 2000

Ron Yary - Class of 2001

Roger Wehrli - Class of 1983

Sam Huff - Class of 1982

Sonny Jurgenson - Class of 1983

Stan Jones - Class of 1991

Ted Hendricks - Class of 1990

Thurman Thomas - Class of 2007

Tom Mack - Class of 1999

Tommy McDonald - Class of 1998

Tony Dorsett - Class of 1994

Willie Brown - Class of 1984

Willie Davis - Class of 1981

Yale Larry - Class of 1979