Randy Cross: Time NFL Owners Took Care of Discarded Players
By Evan Weiner
December 7, 2010
(New York, N. Y.) -- Randy Cross, who was a member of three San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl championship squads, thinks it is time that National Football League owners take some responsibility and provide medical benefits for retired and discarded players. Cross is now an NFL television analyst and is not part of any of the retired or discarded players groups begging NFL owners to help to pay for medical costs for players who are disabled because of injuries suffered during their NFL careers.
"I read everything, I stay in touch with all of that," said Cross, a six time Pro Bowl selection during his 13-year career which ended in 1988. "I am not sure, I think ultimately there is a real liability issue that the league has to get their arms around and take responsibility for, for the physical and mental well-being for some of these players that have struggled the way they have. I don't think there is any two ways around it.
"You can't tell me that concussions and brain injuries and the physical injuries and what not aren't traced back to the careers in football. The league has to take responsibility for that. And, they (the NFL owners) are the ones who have to do it. It is their game; it is not the Players Associations game. It is not some new executive director's game (referring to National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith); it's the league's game.
"If they are not willing to take responsibility for it, I think---a) it is sad and b) somebody has to hold their feet to the fire."
The National Football League owners and players collectively bargain the labor rules of the industry. The old or discarded players did not get the same post-career benefits that are bestowed on baseball players thanks to Marvin Miller and his Major League Baseball Players Association staff. (Miller was again denied admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday--a wrong decision by voters as Miller changed baseball and made sure those players with the proper service time got a pension and post career benefits although there were some overlooked players who did not qualify based on service time) because former association executive directors Ed Garvey and Gene Upshaw went for money and not post career benefits.
They failed the players. The NFL owners are not legally required to help the former players at this point who need assistance but there should be a moral obligation.
Cross was part of two labor stoppages in 1982 and 1987. In retrospect, neither job action got the players what they really needed----good post-career mental benefits and pensions.
"They were both abysmal failures and this (the potential 2011 lockout) all the earmarks of being the same," said Cross. "When the NFL Players Association is run by and influenced by a union type person (Smith), a person that has interests of a union variety---this is not a union. This is a group that is together for as player’s maximum for two or three years on average. These guys need to make the money they can, get the coverage they can and when you have that kind of influence in this negotiation, it is not good news.
"If Gene Upshaw (the deceased former Executive Director of the NFLPA) for all his failings, and God knows you probably hear enough of that from the some of the guys about the things that went wrong but the game of football for the has never flourished from that period from (19)93 to 2008. Never, ever, ever. That was always because the number one priority was building the game."
Cross is correct about the financial growth of the NFL starting in 1993. It was in 1993 that a desperate Rupert Murdoch threw hundreds of millions of dollars at the NFL owners to land the rights to National Football Conference regular season and playoff games along with the Super Bowl. Murdoch needed the NFL product to give credibility to his struggling syndicated FOX grouping of television stations and scored big with the signing which not only included the NFL rights but he picked up stronger affiliates when CBS stations did not renew affiliate deals because that network lost the NFL TV rights. Murdoch's contract upped the ante for General Election's NBC along with Disney's ABC for the Monday Night Football franchise and Disney's ESPN and Ted Turners Turner Broadcasting for cable TV rights.
New stadiums came on board complete with club seats, luxury boxes, in-stadium restaurants (major revenue generators) thanks to the federal 1986 Tax Act (which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan) which changed taxation language for municipalities building stadiums and arenas. The municipalities could only take eight cents on every dollar worth of revenue generated in a stadium to pay down the debt of the building costs. Individual cities signed various leases with teams and those cities without teams, Nashville, Baltimore and St. Louis enticed owners from other cities (Houston, Cleveland and Anaheim with new stadiums), Oakland convinced Al Davis to move his Raiders from Los Angeles back to the Oakland Coliseum. Owners were chasing sweetheart deals, and enhanced revenues. Expansion teams in Charlotte, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Houston brought in over a billion dollars to league owners. The league got two significant bumps in TV contracts since 1993 and the league owners have a war chest to fight the players in 2011 as Murdoch's FOX, GE's (soon to be Comcast) NBC, Disney's ESPN, Sumner Redstone's CBS and DirecTV will play the league a rights fee in 2011 even if no games are played because of a lockout.
"They need to find a way to keep building the game, take care of the players that went in the past," said Cross. "And I am sorry; I don't think the guys who went in the past are the responsibility of the guys that are playing right now."
Cross doesn't see any hope that the owners and players will have a new collective bargaining deal in place when the present agreement expires on March 3.
"There is going to be some serious toe-to-toe stuff," he said. "I mean, if you are used to scheduling vacations around training camp in late July or early August, I would move my calendar back a month or two. It will affect the season. There is no way around it. There is going to be a draft, the draft is the last official act of this agreement. No (mini-camp or free agency), there will be a draft. The one thing that could happen with the draft and I could be full of it, but they could have it earlier. There is no reason to wait until late April to have a draft, so why not do it earlier?"
The football negotiations are fascinating in that there are a lot of moving parts. Smith, the Obama political operative, is seemingly conducting a campaign sending players to Capital Hill to discuss the possible lockout with Congressional leaders and staffers. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose father replaced Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 in the United States Senate from New York after Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968 while running for President, also is a political lobbyist as are all sports commissioners. Goodell's father-in-law Samuel Skinner was President George H. W. Bush's chief of staff and Goodell's wife worked for Murdoch's FOX News Channel. The owners are not on the same page in terms of revenue sharing but they do want to cut players salaries by 18 percent and reduce the size of the revenue given to players from 59 to 48 percent. Then there are the retired and discarded players who have no medical benefits (some of whom have pre-existing conditions and could not get health insurance that are taking government support through disability and Medicare). They want help. They want medical insurance, they want better pensions. Fifty NFL Hall of Famers get pensions of less than $200 a month.
"I think everyone has a little bit of skin in the game," said Cross. "I just think the majority of this is sort of a token effort to appeal to the old guys whether it is coming from the NFL or NFLPA. It is a PR (public relations) thing more than a legitimate, concerted effort to really get stuff done for the older players that built the game."
Neither Goodell nor Smith has really responded to the former and discarded players. Smith is telling his players to save money because he anticipates a March lockout. There is less than three months to go get a deal done but it appears that both sides are entrenching their positions which means that the NFL off-season may really be an off-season with no free agent signings, no min-camps, no organized team activities and perhaps no training camp or pre-season games.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at www.bickley.com or amazonkindle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org