For football fans we love the National Football League and closely follow the teams we root for. But for the older generation we have memories of great players from the past and for those men who are still with us today, many are suffering in a physical way that most football fans are probably unaware of.
The NFL should be red faced for not providing more care and money to these men many of them who help establish a rich history for professional football. There are some out there though trying to make a difference and within the last year, former Washington Redskins running back and Pro Football Hall of Fame member John Riggins along with his lawyer wife Lisa Marie are doing all they can to change the lives of retired NFL players.
Last September they created the non-profit organization F.A.I.R. which stands for “Fairness for Athletes in Retirement.” Lisa Marie, an outstanding attorney is leading the legal end along with the assistance of her husband John as well as former players Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure, and Ken Houston. Their intention is to have the league and the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) to reform the current pension plan the NFL has in place.
F.A.I.R. has a Facebook page you can view at https://www.facebook.com/pensionparity. To launch this story, let me remind you that it was reported that the National Football League brought in a revenue in 2018 of nearly $17 billion (https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2019/07/15/nfl-revenue-owners-players-billions). What Lisa Marie Riggins found out initially was that some former NFL players were receiving pensions of less than $20,000 per year. That’s roughly a little over $1,500 a month.
Before you go saying well these guys made millions and maybe they didn’t invest properly, the fact is most of them did NOTmake the money players are earning today. At one time a meeting with Riggins was with former Republican National Committee chairman from the 1980’s Frank Fahrenkopf who had this reaction to the situation:
“It was incredible. With all the money flowing into the NFL and the millions the players are making today, my first thought was well, hell, if you are a retired player, you must be in pretty good shape. I had no idea.”
But good shape many NFL veterans are not. Take for example standout tight end John Mackey who played almost his entire career with the Baltimore Colts. Tragically he perished at the age of 69 in 2011 after suffering from a what was determined to be dementia or Alzheimer's disease. As the injuries and impact of playing football was determined most likely to result in his illnesses, towards the end of his life Mackey was seen walking around with little memory, lethargic in his actions and showing severe signs of dementia.
Mackey’s monthly pension? $2,450. Because of that his wife had to find employment to make ends meet. There are endless stories of other players from yesteryear that are suffering. Too many to list in this article. If you think Mackey was active on the football field not long ago think again. He retired with the San Diego Chargers in 1972. That is nearly 50 years ago.
For the record, the National Football League began a pension program in 1959, the year I was born, meaning it was 60 years ago. It was to cover any player that was deemed eligible and played from the year 1920 on. To qualify, a player had to be on a roster for three years if they were in the league after 1992 and four seasons in a career that began before 1992. But here’s the catch…pensions do not begin until a player has reached the age of 55.
If you need more examples of player’s in dire situations then read on.
Dobler who earned his fame mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals was also cast as the “NFL’s dirtiest player” at one point. That was in a time when nearly anything goes on the gridiron without being penalized. Now 68, Dobler retired 38 years ago. Since then he has undergone nine knee replacement surgeries and according to Wikipedia, he is technically disabled and unable to get any disability payments from the National Football League.
To make matters worse for the Dobler family, 12 years ago it was reported that his wife Joy had fallen out of a hammock causing paralysis and making her a paraplegic. The medical bills piled up to the point that Dobler’s two children a daughter and a son who are very well educated, were unable to have their post high school education funded any further. Professional golfer Phil Mickelson came to the rescue and was said to be paying for the collegiate tuition. One line from Dobler gives evidence to how bad things became for him as a result of football playing injuries:
“I have six kids, I don’t even know their names. It kind of pisses me off because I prided myself on having such a wonderful memory.”
The remaining stories here come from this web site: https://pensionparity.com/player-stories.
Rickey Dixon (age 52)
Dixon played his pro ball with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders from 1988 to 1993. Six years ago he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease which is almost always fatal. His doctors told him he would probably die in three to five years so he has surpassed that unfortunate prognosis. Still, word is that his football injuries are to blame. Said his wife Lorraine:
“I look at Rickey laying in the hospital bed, trac in his throat, tube in his stomach, has lost 57% of his body weight, can’t talk and can barely move and I think about the NFL and I ask Jesus to help me forgive them.”
Gale Sayers (76)
One of the greatest running backs ever who had his career cut short because of a knee injury now suffers much like Conrad Dobler. Sayers deals with dementia and his wife Ardythe said in the past:
“Like the doctor at the Mayo Clinic said, Yes, a part of this has to be on football. It wasn’t so much getting hit in the head … It’s just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force they play the game in.”
Reportedly, his bout with dementia even makes it difficult to sign his own name. Sayers also now requires a home nurse to watch over him.
Reggie Williams (64)
Another Bengals veteran, Williams has had to have 24 surgeries on his knees including four replacements. In his own words, the indicates that these injuries and the hospital care that goes with him were funded by himself and that it reaches the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Williams was a standout linebacker who first went under the knife in 1979. Because of the injuries he sustained a bone infection termed osteomyelitis. He nearly had to have his right leg amputated because of it.
Nick Buoniconti (died on July 30 age 78)
Nick Buoniconti, enshrined in the hall at Canton, Ohio knows the dangers of football all too well. His son Marc was on the field for The Citadel in 1985 making a tackle that resulted in his permanent paralysis that caused him to be a quadriplegic. At the end of his life, father Nick was suffering from neurological issues. It was so bad that Buoniconti said of himself:
“I feel lost. I feel like a child.”
Dementia was the primary factor according to doctor’s reports and in the end the former Miami great linebacker even had trouble getting himself to the restroom.
Jim Kiick (73 years old)
One of Buoniconti’s teammates on that undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl winning team was running back Jim Kiick who alongside Larry Csonka made up one of the most dangerous and lethal running combinations in any backfield throughout the history of the NFL. But all the onfield damage also caught up to Kiick. He is battling CTE and Alzheimer’s to the point he could no longer hold a job. His son dropped out of college just to assist with his healthcare. These days, he is living in an assisted care facility.
His daughter is Allie Kiick, professional tennis player. She gave an analysis of her father’s condition:
“I just remember seeing the biggest change in him. He just acts like a kid, in every way now – not taking care of himself. We tell him what to do and he listens, but he was pooping his pants, all that stuff. So I – literally – mean that he had turned into a kid.”
Ed White (age 72)
A more recent veteran is White who last played in 1985 but is now fighting Alzheimer’s Disease as well. A few years back he said in regards to a reunion of players from the Super Bowl of his Minnesota Vikings team:
“Four years ago I went to Minnesota and 10 of us who played in Super Bowls got together. Everybody had something going on, so it’s pretty wide spread.”
Jim Otto (81 years old)
While one of the greatest centers in the history of pro football is not suffering from the mental anguish the aforementioned are, injuries to the former Oakland Raider have certainly taken their toll. Jim Otto has had an incredible 74 surgeries, 28 on his knee alone. He has had joint replacement surgeries. At one time in his life he had to battle infections that nearly caused his death and those stemmed from the artificial joints place in his body. On August 1, 2007, his right leg had to be amputated.
The stories could go on and on and another tragic story is that of another great center, Mike Webster. Webster may be the poster boy from what football can do to a man as before his death he suffered from amnesia, dementia, depression, and acute bone and muscle ailments. Despite offers for assistance from past teammates, Webster at one point lived out of his truck and sometimes slept in train stations.
Reportedly, at one point in his life he resorted to electroshock weaponry to put himself to sleep. Webster’s wife divorced him in 2002 apparently not able to deal with his issues. This was just six months before a heart attack finally took the life of “Ironman” Mike Webster. He was just 50 years of age. His son Garrett was his final caretaker despite being a teenager at the time.
With all these stories and the billions of dollars the National Football League makes, there is ABSOLUTELY no reason Roger Goodell and his office can not assist former players and ensure they have a good and healthy post-football life.
There will be those who say these men should have invested their money no matter what they were earning or you might here why didn’t they get another job once they left the NFL? Well, as in the case with Jim Kiick, some did and still because of what took place on the field, they were rendered unable to work. Realize this…football is a game but it is also the chosen career of those men who play it.
In today’s NFL, players have completely lost the respect for the game and it is no longer a game, a job, and a business. Now it’s simply a BUSINESS. It’s all about money and I’d place money down that nearly every man on every roster knows little about the history of the game they play or the men who paved the way. There are far too many prima donnas on the field, they’ve cheapened the game with too many rules, and the camaraderie between players is a little too much.
Back in the day, there was a real dislike between players of teams just ask those who played for the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m not saying there should be a hatred between players of opposing teams in 2019, but this exchanging of jerseys at the end of a game, chit chatting between opponents between plays, showing off on every solid play a man makes, these are things you would have never seen 45 years ago or more.
The bottom line of this story is that today’s NFL players are making so much money and the average salary is now $2.1 million per season. These guys can play one or two seasons and if they play their cards right will never have to struggle financially another day in their life. The veterans from yesteryear can’t say that. It’s simply not fair. They paid their dues with blood and sweat and created team legacies that still exist today. They deserve to be taken care of for the remainder of their lives and done so by the NFL.
Finally for today, if you are an MMA fan, then I’m plugging a new podcast I discovered that is the best I’ve heard yet. It’s hosted by Peter Carroll and Niall McGrath and they call it “Eurobash” as a part of MMA Fighting. These two gentlemen know the sport inside out and their analysis is spot on. I catch the show on Spotify, but here are two more links you can find these guys on:
Be sure to check out their show as I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!