Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Respect for older NFL players

by Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

At least one NFL player needs a lesson in respect, Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff said in a letter to The Washington Post.

He was aiming at New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, one of the leaders for the players in the NFL labor dispute.  Brees has been critical of some older players who think they deserve a place at the bargaining table.

The QB said in an interview: “There’s some guys out there that have made bad business decisions. They took their pensions early because they never went out and got a job. They've had a couple divorces and they're making payments to this place and that place. And that’s why they don’t have money. And they’re coming to us to basically say, ‘Please make up for my bad judgment.’ In that case, that’s not our fault as players.”

Former running back Mercury Morris says Brees was merely parroting the talking points of the union's labor lawyer, according to the New Jersey Newsroom. Morris says Brees and the players association have taken that stance to decline responsibility for older players.

Huff points out in his letter that modern players seem to have lost their respect for other athletes: "When I was playing, the players had a great deal of respect for each other, even for the opponents you tried to beat. I had a great deal of respect for both Jim Taylor and Jim Brown, two of my main opponents. There were great athletes and helped make football the nation’s favorite sport. I think that respect is not as prevalent today among the active players."

Part of his message to Brees is that players in the '50s and '60s made what seems like very little money by today's standards. Huff, for instance, made $19,000 in his final year with the New York Giants and $30,000 when he went to the Washington Redskins in 1964. Huff, who had a successful business career following his football years, isn't asking for help, but he pointed out that some older football players need it:

"I know about the players of the 50’s and 60’s, and they gave everything imaginable to make the game what it is today. Some of those players need help from the NFLPA. They deserve it, and Drew Brees needs better credentials before he makes such derogatory statements about those players," Huff wrote.

Brees would do well to consider former players such as Pat Matson, who has required more than 30 operations for injuries suffered while a player. "He admits he is fortunate despite the surgeries as he played 10 years and had a business career after football. He probably should be getting more than $1.064 a month in pension but that is considerably more than many who played for roughly the same amount of time during the same time period that Matson was employed in the AFL and NFL," according to a report in The Sport Digest.

Insurance companies are unwilling to cover old football injuries. When someone like Matson needs a knee or hip replacement, their current employer's insurance is apt to sidestep responsibility, citing pre-existing conditions.

Brees may be rich enough that when the day comes that his knees and hips begin failing, he'll have enough money pay the hospital. But for him to disparage players who made a paltry $20,000 or $30,000 in their prime shows how little he appreciates the people who paved the way for his multimillion dollar salary. That old football player's hip replacement is going to cost an easy $50,000.

Maybe Brees will take it out of his pocket.

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