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.

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