Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Discarded NFL players continue the fight for health insurance

Monday, 22 August 2011 19:34





There may be a cruel irony in play for disabled and discarded former National Football League players if a New York Post report is correct that MetLife is about ready to sign a multimillion dollar, multi-year deal to become the naming rights sponsor of the New Meadowlands Stadium. MetLife could be throwing as much as $20 million annually or $400 million over 20 years into the pockets of the stadium owners, the New York Jets Woody Johnson and the New York Giants Mara and Tisch families. But in a good many cases, a large percentage of former NFL players who suffered life altering injuries playing for teams like the Jets and Giants and the other 30 franchises would never be able to get a life insurance policy from MetLife.

MetLife has been a stadium sponsor since the new facility opened last year and apparently is just "upgrading" from a "cornerstone sponsor" to the naming rights sponsor. Some company figures to replace MetLife as “cornerstone sponsor” if the New York-based insurance company upgrades. Despite the media frenzy or the cable TV and talk radio carnival barkers who want to grab attention for ratings purposes that the economic sky is falling and we will be facing a double dip recession (cable TV news anchors and talk radio show hosts are economic experts just ask them), insurance companies seem to have a lot of disposable income for what probably is best described as vanity sponsorship.

MetLife is already part of the New Meadowlands Stadium landscape for a reported $7 million a year as a "cornerstone sponsor." In Los Angeles, the Anschutz Entertainment Group has sold naming rights for a proposed downtown football stadium to the Farmers Insurance Group, a Swiss company with Los Angeles headquarters. The Farmers-Anschutz Entertainment agreement is reportedly a 30-year deal with Farmers kicking in over $700 million during the length of the contract.

If the reports are correct, insurance companies will be spending over a billion dollars over a couple of decades to throw their names on top of two facilities that are used less than 30 times a year. MetLife's sports sponsorship includes plastering the company's name on blimps that over-the-air and cable TV networks use to provide aerial shots of stadiums and other sports venues.

Again there is a cruel irony in this for the former players as they probably could not get life insurance from the Farmers Insurance Group because of pre-existing injuries suffered while playing for the Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Raiders and Los Angeles Rams of both the American and National Football Leagues.

The former players still have no idea if the National Football League Players Association got them any real long term health benefits from the recently concluded National Football League lockout. But the former players seem to be taking no chances that the National Football League Players Association or two decertified versions of the National Football League Players Association have once again failed their long term futures in exchange for short term economic gains.

There have been lawsuits filed and one National Labor Relations Board complaint has been placed in an attempt to change the lives of players who because of football injuries are unable to work or properly function following their careers.

The one action that is not getting much attention a claim filed by former Cleveland Browns player Bernie Parrish with the National Labor Relations Board on July 20, 2011. Parrish doesn't want the NFLPA or the association's executive director DeMaurice Smith representing him in trying to get better post career health and economic benefits from the NFL.

Parrish's involvement with the former players should not be dismissed. A former player rep and one of the founding fathers of the modern day NFLPA during his playing days in the 1960s, Parrish has gotten some results for the former players in their battle with the NFLPA in an effort to get some money steered their ways.

In 2007, Parrish and Hall of Fame defensive back Herb Adderley filed a class action suit on behalf of retired NFL players against the NFLPA and Players, Inc., one of the NFLPA subsidiaries, over retired players' benefits derived from player image and name licensing fees. Even though Parrish was dismissed from the suit as a lead plaintiff, a jury found in favor of the retired players and awarded a $28.1 million judgment against the NFLPA and Players, Inc., including $21 million in punitive damages The NFLPA appealed in February 2009, however both sides settled the case without further litigation.

"Since on or about within the six months prior to the filing and service of this charge, and continuing to date, the above-named labor organization (the NFLPA), by its agents, officers and representatives, has violated the National Labor Relations Act by violating an outstanding Board Order by continuing to try to represent the retired NFL players, including, among others Bernard Parrish," reads the complaint.

The former players have again gone in many directions in trying to secure health and economic benefits after the NFLPA signed "Money Now" collective bargaining agreements with NFL owners and didn't bother with post career benefits.

A number of former NFL players are living on government safety nets such as social security insurance and Medicare long before their 65th birthdays.

Parrish has gone through the courts and won and is now trying the National Labor Relations Board for a remedy. Last week seven former players including the quarterback of the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl squad, Jim McMahon, filed a class action suit against the NFL in a Philadelphia courtroom contending they did not receive proper treatment for concussions and that the league has been concealing links between football and brain injuries. McMahon, Joe Thomas, Ray Easterling, Wayne Radloff, Gerry Freehery, Steve Kiner and Mike Furrey are the players who have their names on this lawsuit.

Another group is also going after benefits that they feel should be theirs led by former Minnesota Vikings player Carl Eller.

Eller and other former players sued both the NFL and the NFL Players Association, contending they were illegally been left out of the latest talks after taking part in court-ordered mediation sessions earlier this year. Eller's group claimed that both sides also conspired to keep benefit levels and pension payments low in the new collective bargaining agreement.

Eller recently circulated a letter among the retirees.

“(The) NFLPA objects to Independent Retiree Organization. Owners offer $33 Million per year to Retirees. The funds would come from the $50 Million that the Leagued informed us about a couple of weeks ago. The $22 Million that is designated for Retirees in the CBA that the NFLPA has the digression to use any way it chooses. Plus another $11 Million of the $50 Million that would be administrated by the League and the Retirees. Another $11 Million of the $50 Million would remain in the hands of the NFLPA which is designated for charities.

"Roughly $44 million per year which is not included in the proposed $.95 Billion to $1.1 Billion designated for Retiree Benefits and Pensions in the CBA is pending decision by the courts. $33 million of that $44 Million to have an Independent organization control it has been agreed on by two of the three parties involved in the Eller Class Litigation. The party that objects is obviously the NFLPA. It is not for naught that I want to bring your attention to these matters. My assumption is that the NFLPA has determined that the retirees individually and as groups are idiots. And that the NFLPA can basically say anything and the Retirees will believe it. Also that by using these basic and simple tactics they can disarm any threat that they may encounter in pursuit of their goal to control Billions of dollars and continue to operate as they have in the past. "

Some of the former retirees have complained that Eller isn't reaching high enough for retirees when compared with Major League Baseball retired players. But the Major League Baseball Players Association had much better leadership with Marvin Miller as Executive Director when you examine the two groups. Miller stressed to his group to think about the future while Ed Garvey and Gene Upshaw demanded "money now."

While the former players continue the fight and some quarrel among themselves, the business and corporate spending on the National Football League continues apace. There are insurance companies ready to spend billions and act like jock sniffers so that some company executives can rub elbows with NFL owners and league officials and players and coaches along with team officials. The fans care only about being entertained or how their monetary investments in fantasy leagues, point spreads over and unders are going by watching endless football shows which feature the same highlights in various degrees of slow motion and numerous anglings or listening to sports talk radio or reading handicappers guides. And some sit comatose in front of their televisions on a Sunday from the start of network pre-game shows in the morning to the final play of Sunday night football while downing beer and eating all sorts of unhealthy snack foods which may raise their health risk and force them to pay more money for life insurance policies from MetLife and Farmers.

This is the NFL Today.

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 bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New York Islanders still have a shot at a new arena

Friday, 05 August 2011 14:53





For the New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, the disappointment of losing an arena referendum in Nassau County last Monday was not the end of the road in terms of getting his Uniondale, New York-based New York Islanders a new arena. It was just a hiccup although if you read hockey writers accounts in both the New York and from the self proclaimed world's best hockey writers market, Toronto, it is all over for Wang. He should pack up and get out even if he has four years left on his lease because it will not happen for the Long Island businessman in Nassau County.

Wang, who spent part of his childhood in Queens, won't ever get a new arena in Nassau County according to the ones with supreme hockey knowledge and in fact one titan of the Toronto hockey writers Parthenon, the noted public policy and economic expert Damien Cox, suggested that the Islanders problems stem from Wang himself. Cox should stick to something he might know about — talking to hockey insiders about proposed trades, coaching or general manager changes — and leave the public policy writing to experts who understand property tax hikes, funding mechanisms for arenas and stadiums and whether a sports venue is an economic engine.

Cox probably has been to a New Jersey Devils game in Newark, New Jersey and if Cox and the rest of the enlightened thinkers who turn out daily rabble about hockey had any understanding of what they try and write about in the business arena of sports, Newark is a perfect place to start an urban policy lesson.

Newark was the apple of the eye of the former owners of the New Jersey Nets back in the 1990s and into the early part of the last decade. The Nets ownership planned to build an arena there and when it didn't happen, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association David Stern called New Jersey politicians some names and said the politicians "blew it."

Funny thing, the New Jersey Nets franchise of Stern's NBA is using the very land on which the arena that was built after the Nets-Newark arena talk meltdown that the Nets ownership and Newark were planning. The team is renting dates at the building until a Brooklyn arena opens up. The New Jersey Devils ownership jumped into the void and worked out a deal with Newark to build a facility in a public-private partnership.

For Cox and the rest of the hockey hacks, perhaps some facts should be explained to them so they write better columns. In the sports stadium/arena game, no never means no even if voters say no.

Here are some examples of where the voters were sadly mistaken in the voter’s booth after rejecting a sports venue. Seattle, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Ramapo, New York eight miles north of the New Jersey-New York border at Montvale.

In the early 1990s, Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent was terrorizing cities in hopes of getting a new ballpark in places like Cleveland. No new park and your team will be moved. In an awful lot of places the threatening tactics worked. Cleveland can up with a "sin tax" with tax hikes on cigarettes and alcohol to help pay for a new Cleveland baseball park. The explosion of stadium and arena building in the United States started after the 1986 tax reform and owners noticed that a large loophole existed if a municipality put up funding for a building. The municipality could take as little as eight cents out of every dollar earned inside a facility and use that money to pay down the stadium or arena debt.

All the possible relocation threats worked as almost everyone got a new stadium between 1986 and 2011. Only two franchises in baseball are looking for new facilities, the Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff and the Tampa Bay Rays owners. Just about every minor league ballpark has been replaced or renovated since the 1990 Major League-Minor League development pact.

King County, Washington, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee residents said no to funding ballparks in votes. But the elected officials knew better and put new stadiums in those cities. Washington state lawmakers imposed tax hikes in restaurant, hotel and motel and restaurant tabs to fund a new Mariners home. There was a six county sales tax hike around Milwaukee to fund that city's new ball yard and A deal was crafted for Pittsburgh to build a new baseball facility and a new football stadium.

In the summer of 2010, Ramapo, New York voters overwhelmingly said no to a publicly funded minor league style baseball park only to see the Town Supervisor and the town council nullify the vote. Ramapo residents have no idea what the final tab on the stadium will be but they will be paying for years for a park that was built for a team in a financially shaky independent baseball loop, the CanAm League.

In the 1990s, stadium building was viewed as an economic engine which has over the decades proven to be false. The jobs created are mostly

per diem and minimum wage positions.

Still the stadiums kept being built. Middle and small markets like Nashville, Jacksonville, Charlotte and others began competing with the big boys and one of the biggest, the Los Angeles-Anaheim market, lost two National Football League teams following the 1994 season when Georgia Frontiere took her Anaheim-based Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis and Al Davis moved his Los Angeles Raiders back to Oakland after a deal had been conceptually worked out that would have kept Davis in the Los Angeles area. Art Modell moved his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season when he was unable to get a new stadium, Cleveland threatened to sue the NFL and viola a deal was worked out, Cleveland built a new stadium and the NFL put an expansion team in the city in 1999. Houston and St. Louis also regained teams.

The National Basketball Association was not beyond using relocation threats. Leslie Alexander wanted to move his Houston Rockets along with his WNBA and indoor football team and flirted with Louisville. Houston voters got the message after saying no to an arena referendum and said yes. Ken Lay, the disgraced Enron CEO is a major player in getting a Houston baseball park approved, there seemed to be annual Larry King "exclusives" back in those days in his USA Today column that insiders told Larry that John McMullen (who also owned the New Jersey Devils) was moving his Astros to Washington.

After George Shinn could not get a new basketball arena built for his Charlotte Hornets, Shinn took his team to New Orleans. Despite voters saying no to a new arena in Charlotte, the city officials worked out a deal to build a new venue in exchange for an expansion franchise.

Wang's biggest deficiency is that he has publicly not taken the threat road and in the stadium/arena game that is a big stick. Nassau County politicians have basically shown Islanders owners like Wang and before that Howard and Ed Millstein and Stephen Gluckstern the door like an overbearing landlord hold an iron clad lease. In the late 1990s, Millstein thought he had a deal to build a new arena and that fell apart.

If Wang wants some leverage, Queens political and business leaders are interested in bringing the team west to the Mets ballpark/tennis center area or work out a deal to share the Brooklyn arena that will house the Nets. Back to Cox, surely he knows that the Toronto Maple Leafs-Raptors home building was half done when Maple Leaf Enterprises took over the basketball-only building and turned it into a multi-use facility.

Nassau County lawmakers are suburbanites and not used to dancing with major league hitters but then again Wang has not been blustery about his problems like former Devils owners, the late John McMullen who never missed liking a city with an arena that was better than the Meadowlands like Hamilton, Ontario or Hoboken. McMullen never did get his Hoboken building constructed but the Devils franchise controls a building in Newark.

A lot of people look at sports as a well, sports. It is a business, Wang will have more shots at the net; all he needs is one to go in while playing the arena game. He was never going to win last week's referendum, his pitch for the building was very weak and National Hockey League Commissioner did not issue the requisite threats. Also Nassau residents have been bombarded with the "nattering nabobs of negativism" — radio talk show hosts and cable TV carnies who constantly rail against the government and government spending. But New York has built four baseball stadiums (Bronx/Yankees, Queens/Mets in a city-state, private partnership, Brooklyn/Cyclones minor league team, Staten island/Yankees minor league team), one very expensive basketball arena in Brooklyn in a heavily subsidized project and has given Madison Square Garden a property tax break for nearly 30 years. There seems to be political will in Queens, maybe some in Brooklyn.

In New Jersey, Newark built an arena, the Jets and Giants with state aid negotiated a deal in a private/public partnership to build a new stadium even as the debt on old Giants stadium approached nine figures. That is how it is, no is never no.

Wang has some leverage and in the stadium/arena game, all you need is leverage even if you have four years left on your lease.

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 bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NFL and NFLPA’s labor woes may not be over yet
TUESDAY, 02 AUGUST 2011 14:04
The National Football League owners have a labor agreement with the present members of the reconstituted National Football League Players Association but it appears that the league still has problems with the players association's stance on not helping out former players with their medical needs years after their last game in the league. The league apparently informed Carl Eller's legal team on Friday that the-then decertified National Football League Players Association decided not to take a $500 million offer over ten-years to get retirees life football medical benefits and an uptick in pensions as part of the recently completed collective bargaining agreement.
Eller, the one time member of the Minnesota Vikings "Purple People Eaters" defensive line, has emerged as a key player in the NFL-NFLPA labor agreement. Eller and a number of former players inserted themselves into this year's collective bargaining talks because they felt the league and whatever the NFLPA called themselves in this round of negotiations had failed to provide adequate post football life care in terms of pensions and medical benefits to former players.
There are numerous stories about former National Football League players who cannot function on their own or are suffering from dehabilitating injuries that occurred on the football field but did not come out until they were long retired from the game. A new story has been making the rounds in retired players’ circles about a onetime offensive lineman who played in the American Football Conference.
"(The former player) has gone downhill fast," said his wife. "He’s now on the 88 plan. I can't keep up with him – even with full-time help. We do not need anything financially. YET. But we do need communication and support. I could never have imagined how hard this would be and I pride myself on being a strong cookie. We are living in Crazyland every day!
"Fortunately, (the player) is just as sweet as he has always been. But two of us chase him all day long. He has several self-inflicted wounds: eye, thumb, nose. Minor but of concern. He thinks he’s holding something in his hand all day – nothing there but his hand is clasped. It’s crazy. Even two of us cannot keep up. Last night, I went to take a shower and I forgot to lock the front door. Within 10 minutes he was outside with the TV remote in his hand along with 4 or 5 books (anything he could get his hands on) and in his bare feet walking down a long driveway to get into a neighbor’s mailbox! And Terry cannot go into an assisted living facility at this stage as he’s beyond that and needs round-the-clock supervision to keep him from hurting himself or getting into trouble."
There is another story going around about a one-time offensive lineman in the AFL and NFL who is also totally disabled and is suffering from the same head injuries as his friend, the late John Mackey who died less than a month ago.
That former player’s story seems all too familiar.
The "88 plan" came about after the league and the NLFPA seemed to be shamed into having to do something to help former players. The “88 Plan,” named after John Mackey's Baltimore Colts uniform number, came about after it was revealed that the Pro Football Hall of Famer and one time NFLPA president Mackey was suffering from frontotemporal dementia. The two sides signed off on the following the 2006 CBA singing. The "88 plan" provides up to $88,000 a year for nursing care or day care for ex-players with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or $50,000 for home care.
Not everyone can qualify for the "88 Plan" or other post career benefits. There is a panel made up of NFL management types and former players that rules on who gets money and treatment and who doesn't. It is a very complex issue that seems to have no solution.
The players association has always been about "Money Now". In 1982, NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey along with his then assistant, the former Oakland Raiders player, Gene Upshaw and the rest of the staff used the slogan "Money Now" to hammer their point across in that year's NFLPA strike. The NFLPA wanted the money in 1982 and didn't strive for any real post-career benefits. The Hall of Fame defensive back Herb Adderley is getting about $175 a month in pension. Wayne Hawkins, a long time offensive lineman in the American Football League, gets slightly more than $200 a month. To qualify for any kind of care, a player has to last three years.
The NFLPA, not the NFL owners, has failed to live up to a union/association's responsibility to get the best deal possible and that doesn't necessarily mean money now. In a rough world of pro football where exaggerated toughness commands respect there comes a price. The NFLPA has constantly ignored players once they go into the civilian world. The former players have blamed the NFL owners for their indifference but the NFL owners are not obligated to do anything for their former employees. They have been engaged in the collective bargaining process for more than five decades. The owners aren’t angels and in fact did not initially recognize any players association or union in the late 1950s.
The NFL ownership group, hardly a bastion of liberal and enlightened thinkers, understands that there is a need to collectively bargain with the players and has apparently offered mechanisms to take care of players who have suffered lifelong injuries related to the industry. The NFL may also face other legal suits. Seventy five former players including one time New York Giants running back and Super Bowl MVP O. J. Anderson are suing the league claiming that the NFL deliberately held back information that concussions had long term health effects.
The American public has been taking care of some players through Medicare and Social Security Insurance for years unknowingly. Players have turned to the government because they are uninsurable because of pre-existing injuries that they suffered on the field. It is not unknown how many players are on the Medicare or Social Security rolls long before their 65th birthdays because most of the severely injured players never come forth and go public about their National Football League or American Football League related injuries. There are few players still alive who played in the All American Football Conference between 1946 and 1949 who can discuss whether they had life impacting injuries from football. Other players who may have been saved by the American safety net include those who have played high school and college football, indoor football, minor league football and those who were in the World Football league, the United States Football League and the various incarnations of the World League of American Football which included NFL Europa.
It is an industry wide problem.
The former players who once were part of the NFLPA seem to have been betrayed by the leadership or were blinded by their agents or the "Money Now" thinking. The players found out that they are not only considered disposable commodities by their teams who tell them to play through injuries, both minor and severe, but by their agents and their association.
The NFL also stands for "Not For Long" in many cases.
The former players are fragmented which is a problem and there are often a good many agendas that are being put forth by people who are trying to rectify untenable situations. The NFLPA may have wanted to reach out to the former players in a public relations ploy and went as far as almost offering them a seat at the collective bargaining table. In the end, the NFL owners led by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the decertified NFLPA led by Executive Director DeMaurice Smith came up with an agreement that allowed training camps to open a little late and persevered the 2011 season without the retirees having a seat.

There is a legacy fund to take care of former players in the new agreement although no one seems to know how it will work. Perhaps the league's insurance groups will take some of the severely injured players off of the Medicare and Social Security rolls and replace that with better health care and pension benefits. Perhaps is a big word though. This isn't silly stuff like "Spygate" where New England Patriots coach Bill Belichek was videotaping run throughs or the other inane stories that are manufactured throughout a football season about one team really hating another team. This is real life and the lawsuits that are being pushed might have be avoidable if the players had better advice.
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 bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle.