Goodell declares benefits of former players are safe

There had been some debate as to whether or not the benefits to retired players would be cut should there be an uncapped year in 2010, with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith making comments of that nature recently. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dispelled that notion Wednesday when he sent a letter to the NFL Alumni Board of Directors clarifying any questions in this matter.

Goodell stated in the letter that pension and disability benefits for retired players would not be reduced in an uncapped year. Goodell’s letter came in response to an inquiry by NFL Alumni representatives about how some of the possible changes in the collective bargaining agreement with players could impact former players.

In his letter, Goodell wrote: “Like you, I have seen statements attributed to DeMaurice Smith and other union representatives suggesting that retired players will have their pension or disability payments sharply reduced during an uncapped 2010 season. Simply put, those claims have no basis in fact. Indeed, in all of my conversations with DeMaurice Smith, he has never raised this subject with me. Had he done so, my answer would have been clear and unequivocal – there will be no reduction in pension or disability payments to retired players during 2010.”

I spoke to Jerry Kramer, Hall of Fame guard and member of the Green Bay Packers dynasty, who has been at the forefront of the movement among former players to get better benefits. Kramer said that Goodell’s actions thus far in his term – with payments to former players increasing roughly $9 million per year – had indicated he was committed to this cause, and this letter further confirms it.

“A lot of us, hearing about the uncapped year, were thinking, ‘Can we really count on this guy or not?'” Kramer said. “Cutting the pension in 2010 was definitely a big concern for us and I’m delighted and grateful that the commissioner is committed to helping the plight of the former players. This letter makes that even more clear, and it really made my day. That pension, for a lot of guys, that’s all they’ve really got to live on, and for that to be cut, that would have been devastating for a lot of former players.”

Bruce Laird, another leader among former players, made this statement in the press release about Goodell’s letter: “I am extremely excited to see the commissioner has once again answered our call. Since 2004, myself along with gentlemen like Sam Huff, Joe DeLamielleure, Jerry Kramer, Mike Ditka and several others have been diligently working to improve benefits of retired players via written and verbal communication with both the union and the league. The union has chosen a path of no response when it comes to concerns of retired players. I’m hoping DeMaurice (Smith) will take Commissioner Goodell’s lead in realizing the only way we can solve these issues is by honest and open two-way communications.”

Smith responded to Goodell’s letter via a press release this afternoon: 

“I’m glad to see a partnership between Bruce Laird and the NFL on this issue. Hopefully, Bruce will join every other retired player organization in calling for the NFL to provide audited financial statements instead of having ‘no comment’ when discussing financial transparency. It’s been three months since the leadership of the NFL Retired Players Association, Gridiron Greats, and the Independent Retired Players Football Summit, ALL joined in calling for the NFL to open its books and demonstrate why $8 billion in revenue wasn’t good enough for the owners. We are now asking Bruce in his role as partner with the NFL to provide the information.” 

“As for the disability payments, the letter says what the league has done in the past but not what they have fully committed to do in the future. This is easy to resolve; instead of sending a letter to players telling them what they have previously done, the NFL should simply guarantee paying these benefits to all players well into the future, even though they chose to walk away from the agreement they signed in 2006. I’m happy when they choose to guarantee their obligations.”

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