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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Mike Ditka, Former Players Ask the U.S. Senate to “Fix” the NFL

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mike Ditka, Former Players Ask the U.S. Senate to “Fix” the NFL

WASHINGTON — After testimony Tuesday by retired NFL players about red tape in qualifying for disability benefits related to on-the-field injuries, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the league is "dropping the ball."


"My hope is that the league will get its act together here," Kerry said. "I am prepared, if the league doesn't do that, to introduce, which I hope we would never have to do, legislation to create some kind of appropriate accountability and oversight."


Upshaw said that of 1,052 players who have applied for disability since 1993, 428 (40.7%) have had their claims approved. But he told the committee the work could be streamlined if Congress changed a law that requires the six-member board, which makes decisions on claims, to include three representatives from the team owners and three from the union. Upshaw said it "makes sense" for the players union alone to make the decisions.


Hall of Famer Mike Ditka: "The system is broke. Fix it. ... Don't make proud men beg."

The idea that former NFL players and coaches have sought help from the U.S. Senate to act as a referee between former players and the NFL bothers me both as a fan of the NFL and as someone who believes the government should stay within its Constitutional boundaries (I’m especially disappointed in “Iron Mike” Ditka for stooping to such a low level; I thought he was made of sterner stuff). If history is any indication, if Ditka et al wish for the congressional oversight over the NFL, they will likely get their wish. John Kerry seems all too eager to put on the zebra stripes, throw the flag, and penalize the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we have a few more pressing needs that our elected officials should be concerned with such as the war, the VA system, wasteful spending, etc?

As for the former players, they had to know what they were getting into when they decided to play professional football. NFL players both past and present have received the fame, the fortune, and the ability to retire when they are very young. Sure, the players of yesteryear did not earn quite what today’s players do, and perhaps were not marketed as aggressively as today’s players but they each signed contracts and should have known what the risks were. Football ceases to be a game at the professional level (probably even at the college level) because of the increased size, strength, and speed of the players. Players can and do get injured; most feel the toll on their bodies for the rest of their lives.

Given these risks, what should the federal government do? The only branch of the government that could possibly have a role would be the judicial branch. If the NFL somehow violated the terms of these players contracts, the NFL should be compelled to honor those terms by the courts. If this is not the case, then these former players should have no remedy from the federal government.

This does not mean, however; that these players don’t have other means to pay for their medical expenses. The NFL, its players, and its coaches are not hurting for money. If Ditka doesn’t want to “make proud men beg” then shouldn’t he first appeal to his NFL contacts and pass the hat? Surely, there would be at least a few owners, coaches, players and perhaps even fans who would be willing to donate some of their money to such a cause.

As for those who are currently playing in the NFL, if they are concerned with health issues which inevitably will continue long after retirement, they need to address these issues within their organizations and within the NFL. Not one nanosecond of the American people’s time should be spent on this matter.


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