SportsProf

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Way Too Little

The NFL has pledged a fund of $10 million to help retired players deal with their medical issues.

That amounts to $312,500 per team.

And that has many former players, Mike Ditka among them, bristling that the funding is just a gesture.

They are being diplomatic. It's just way too low.

Pro football has become the national pastime (while my kids love baseball, they were ticked that they couldn't stay up to watch any World Series games, a problem which the Lords of Baseball don't seem to care one iota about). We glorify it, we rearrange our weekends around it, and we enjoy watching it (I don't do the first two -- life's too short to spend a full fall day watching others exercise). But what does it say about us when we treat former players like they're an old computer or a ten year-old sofa? We can throw those goods on the scrap heap, and some special trash hauler will come take them away. We can't do the same with former players -- they're people. Yet, the NFL has done so figuratively, by providing band-aid solutions to situations that need major surgery.

Ex-players have all sorts of medical issues that stem from playing a violent game for decades. The stories are too numerous to tell here (but you can read about them here and here), but given all of the money that football generates, the owners should put a lot more money into three phases, as follows:

1. Research and development on the best equipment that can help prevent long-term injuries. There are all sorts of possibilities, and they should exploit the game's popularity to get some great minds working in these areas. The teams should commit a $100 million fund for this effort (roughly $3 million per team).

2. Medical monitoring of former players to determine the long-term effects of the game and then medical research that can help treat traumatic injuries for the long-term.

3. Money. Fund a large fund (and I'm talking an evergreen $320 million minimum or $10 million per team) to run as a Medicare/Social Security fund for these players. It isn't fair to ask the former players to do it, as they aren't baseball players and haven't enjoyed the financial successes that members of the Major League Baseball Players Association (who don't have these long-term health issues) have. The owners have the valuable franchises, and the owners should care about the long-term health prospects of those who bring glory to their teams and their cities. What does it say about them if they don't?

The owners should help our their former players to make sure they can live dignified lives, why, because these players gave their all for the owners. Sure, they're not making money for them now, but they're part of the rich tapestry that is their NFL franchise, part of the foundation of the team, children in an extended family. True, some players made good money (and, my guess is that some didn't manage it well), but the health and life issues we're talking about are staggering -- Alzheimer's, serious neurological and orthopedical problems, etc. The average player from this collision sport needs more help.

And more than a total of $17 million can possibly provide.

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