Saturday, September 15, 2007

The NFL's Not-So-Secret Shame

On Sunday, September 9, 2007, Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered a "catastrophic" cervical spine (neck) injury when he ducked his head while driving in to tackle the Denver Broncos' Domenik Hixon. The original prognosis was very grim: It was said that paralysis was probable, with some doctors wondering aloud whether or not Everett would even survive the injury. But by Friday, September 14, Everett was showing "stunning" improvements following surgery on his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae. He is able to feel touch on his arms and his legs, and he was able to move his fingers.

Despite the improvements, it is highly unlikely Everett will escape without lasting neurological effects, and it is almost a given that he will never return to the gridiron. He will likely end up needing some kind of advanced medical treatment for the rest of his life. Considering he is a mere 25 years old, that kind of care will be extremely costly. If he is left unable to work and unable to earn money, who will pay for that care? If you think that the NFL's pension plan will cover these expenses and provide Everett with money to pay for food, clothing, and housing, THINK AGAIN...

There are several accounts of ex-NFL players sidelined by injuries who are now living in poverty, having gone through their earnings paying for medical care. For an example, let's discuss 35-year-old Brian Demarco. He was in the NFL for 5 years, playing for both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cincinnati Bengals. Over his short career, he suffered the following injuries:

His back is fractured in 17 places, his elbows were both shattered, and he has significant nerve damage. Often times his hands do not work and he loses all feeling from them. Due to the severe back injuries, Brian can barely walk. He also suffered a minimum of 12 concussions and now suffers from headaches and tremors. All of Brian’s injuries are a direct result of his NFL career. Over the years he has exhausted all of his savings on medical care. NFL players lose their health insurance just a few years after football and can not obtain health insurance for their pre-existing football injuries.
Demarco is married with two small children. He and his wife have gone without food so their children can eat, and the family has been homeless 3 times in the past two years. The family is in such dire straits because Demarco cannot work and, due to his injuries, he is virtually crippled and requires round-the-clock care. This next fact may shock you, as it did me:
The families dire situation is due to the fact that Brian does not currently receive any disability support from the NFLPA. He has been trying to get disability from the NFLPA for four years. He has phoned the NFLPA over 100 times in the last several months.
This man literally gave his body to the money-making machine that is the NFL, yet they can't (more likely won't) support him and his family now that he is no longer able to suit up and sell tickets and merchandise to fans. It is not an NFL pension that has been helping the Demarco family, as one might assume. NFL pensions don't kick in until the former player is 55 years old, which, incidentally, is around the time the average former pro-football player dies.

There is an organization called Gridiron Greats. From the website: "Mike Ditka, Willie Davis, Harry Carson, Gale Sayers, Joe DeLamielleure, Tom Nowatzke and others form The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance and coordination of social services to retired NFL players in dire need." The Gridiron Greats foundation has been supporting Demarco and his family as well as a number of other ex-NFLers like him who also need financial help. Gridiron Greats gets this money from donations at the same time the chief of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, enjoys a whopping $6.7 million salary while claiming that there is no money left to help former players like Demarco and Everett.

These men wage a weekly war on a field for our entertainment. When they are no longer able to take part in battle, they are cast aside and forgotten. Without the bodily sacrifices of these men, the NFL would not exist. Whether disabled for life by injuries or mentally diminished from repeated concussions, one thing is certain: these men and their families deserve more than the NFL is giving them. The NFL has taken a step in the right direction with the "88" plan, but there are many more players like Brian Demarco that don't qualify for the "88" plan because they don't suffer from dementia. These men need an "88" plan too.

Gridiron Greats
Fox News
Sotoroff, Paul. "The Forgotten Casualties of the NFL" The Week Sept. 14, 2007: 40-41.


ben214 said...

Something has to be done for these players. The NFLPA needs to realize that many former players can no longer afford the cost of living along with expensive medical bills. The NFL's retirement benefits should kick in when the player retires not when they turn 55 which is long after any NFL player retires.

John said...

Good topic. As a former NFL'er myself I am supportive of remedial action but your article is one dimensional. Why single out Gene Upshaw who was also a player? Why not take on the fat cat NFL owners who each make many times the salary of Gene Upshaw (and what do they really own?, not the stadiums, just some helmets, jock straps and the "rights" to the negotiate exclusively for the players, the talent to perform athletic feats, many of them costly to the extreme as exemplified by Everett's horrific injury.
At least the NFLPA has fought for the current rights the NFL owners were loathe to give up. Why not take the fight to an arena more worthy of attention?

snoopyjode said...

you make a valid point, john. fat cat owners making too much money isn't an nfl-exclusive problem. (actually, that's not even a sports-exclusive problem.) i didn't mention it simply because i thought that was understood to be a given. i will concede that i should not have assumed that everyone else would have taken that into consideration.

however, the reason i singled out upshaw is because he is the one person that is supposed to be looking out for these players. he's being paid to do just that. it is his DUTY as chief of the nflpa to ensure that all players, past and present, are represented, compensated, and treated fairly by the nfl. and regardless of whether one likes or dislikes upshaw, if there is a need for a foundation like the gridiron greats (which we have established that there is), then he's failing miserably.

Anonymous said...

I saw the HBO special on the DeMarco's and it was heart breaking. Is there any way to contribute or help the family?