In a letter sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and Pro Football Hall of Fame president C. David Baker on Tuesday, many high-profile Pro Football Hall of Famers said they would not attend the annual induction ceremony until Hall of Famers receive health insurance and an annual salary that includes a share of league revenue.
But some of those Hall of Famers who supposedly had signed the letter, including Jerry Rice and Kurt Warner, said later Tuesday that while they support the idea of improved benefits for all players, they never said they would boycott Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
Rice, in fact, said he wasn’t even a member of the newly created Hall of Fame Board, as chairman Eric Dickerson had said in the letter.
— jerryrice (@JerryRice) September 18, 2018
The letter, obtained by ESPN, was sent by Dickerson and was said to have been signed by Hall of Fame Board members Rice, Warner, Marcus Allen, Mel Blount, Derrick Brooks, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Richard Dent, Carl Eller, Marshall Faulk, Mike Haynes, Rickey Jackson, Ronnie Lott, Curtis Martin, Joe Namath, John Randle, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jackie Smith, Lawrence Taylor and Sarah White, Reggie White’s widow.
“We, the undersigned Pro Football Hall of Famers, were integral to the creation of the modern NFL, which in 2017 generated $14 billion in revenue,” the letter begins. “But when the league enshrined us as the greatest ever to play America’s most popular sport, they gave us a gold jacket, a bust and a ring — and that was it.
“To build this game, we sacrificed our bodies. In many cases, and despite the fact that we were led to believe otherwise, we sacrificed our minds. We believe we deserve more. We write to demand two things: Health insurance and annual salary for all Hall of Famers that includes a share of league revenue.”
Hall of Famers in letter to NFL, NFLPA and Pro Football Hall of Fame
“People know us from our highlight reels. They see us honored and mythologized before games and at halftime, and it would be reasonable if they thought life was good for us. But on balance, it’s not. As a group we are struggling with severe health and financial problems. To build this game, we sacrificed our bodies. In many cases, and despite the fact that we were led to believe otherwise, we sacrificed our minds. We believe we deserve more. We write to demand two things: Health insurance and annual salary for all Hall of Famers that includes a share of league revenue.”
Warner said he was never made aware of the letter and that “my name was mistakenly attached to it.” However, like Rice, Warner said he does support the effort to gain better “lifetime” benefits for “past, current and future NFL players.”
Said Warner: “I feel we can make a great case to the NFL for their support of these efforts. However, I do not believe boycotting is the means to the end in this instance.”
My comments on HOF benefits letter being circulated today: pic.twitter.com/JKU2X5lCIs
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) September 18, 2018
The letter from Dickerson outlines that the total cost for every Hall of Famer to have health insurance is less than $4 million, which is less than that of a 30-second Super Bowl ad, or about 3 cents for every $100 the league generates in revenue.
“The time has come for us to be treated as part of a game we’ve given so much to,” the letter states. “Until our demands are met, the Hall of Famers will not attend the annual induction ceremony in Canton. It’s well-known that the NFL is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020, and while we are proud of our role in building this league, we don’t believe 100 years of player exploitation is something to celebrate. As we approach this momentous date, we challenge the NFL to honor its past by helping retired players instead of exploiting their images for marketing purposes.”
NFL players have received a pension since the Bert Bell Plan, named after a former league commissioner, was created in 1959. In the 1993 collective bargaining agreement, a 401K plan to which players also could contribute was established, and in 1998 an annuity program.
“There have been significant increases in the pension with every collective bargaining agreement in the history of this sport,” said Miki Yaras-Davis, the NFLPA’s senior director of benefits.
“The normal retirement age is 55 for former players, and those players can leave in their pension (funds) and at 65 they have almost a 300 percent increase. This is one of the few defined benefit plans left in the country. It’s a program which isn’t seen much anymore that defines the benefits at a certain age.”
During the 2011 labor dispute and lockout, one of the main issues was establishing a fund for pre-1993 players. In that CBA, a “Legacy Fund” was established, with a $620 million increase in benefits, with team owners contributing out of their share of revenues for the first time. The union and the league have increased pensions three times for former players since 2011.
But the letter sent by Dickerson calls the Legacy Fund “little more than cynical public relations ploys that fail to help those who desperately need it.”
The letter also calls into question Goodell’s $40 million annual salary as well as the construction of a $1 billion Hall of Fame Village in Canton, Ohio.
“Meanwhile, many of us Hall of Fame players can’t walk and many can’t sleep at night,” the letter states. “More than a few of us don’t even know who or where we are. Our long careers left us especially vulnerable to the dangers of this violent sport, especially those intentionally hidden from us. Commissioner Goodell, there are better uses for that money.”
While the proposal is currently for Hall of Fame players, Dickerson said the goal is to eventually get health insurance for all former NFL players.
“I want health care for every player, that’s my main goal,” Dickerson told ESPN. “All my offensive linemen who blocked for me, the tight ends, receivers and everyone I played with, don’t you think I want them to have health care? I want those guys to have health care. I want those guys to get exactly what we get. I want them to have a really good pension.
“Those guys played just as hard as I did to get to the Hall of Fame. I want them to get health care, but we have to start here first. We have to get to 1 before we can get to 10. You have to start with the Hall of Famers because we’re trying to get some power first. We don’t have a voice at the table and we’re trying to get there with the attention of the Hall of Famers first. When you get Hall of Famers talking, hopefully you get the attention of the masses.”
Dickerson also believes retired players have been historically underutilized as mentors and that there has been a deliberate attempt to divide active and retired players, citing the example that not a single retired player sits on the board of the NFLPA.
“There’s always been a division there going back to when I was playing,” Dickerson told ESPN. “[Former NFL Players Association executive director] Gene Upshaw said, ‘I represent the current players. I don’t represent the retired player. You can’t hire me and you can’t fire me.’ And DeMaurice Smith has that same mentality. That’s where we get hurt. We have no voice.
“The current players don’t even know the retired players. One day they’re going to be old guys too, and that health care plan they have where you have health care for five years after you retire, what about when you’re 20 or 25 years out? That’s when you need health. That’s the most important part here for me.”
Dickerson said he is hopeful the league and the Hall of Fame players can come to an agreement, and that every NFL player will eventually be able to benefit from this.
“The players make the NFL. It’s not those jerseys, it’s the players,” Dickerson told ESPN. “I just want everything to be fair. We’re not trying to beat the league. Playing in the NFL was an honor, but treat us fairly. Treat us like people think that we’re treated. People think we have this great pension. We don’t. We don’t have health care after five years. It’s not right, but this is for all players. That’s my big goal, but we have to start somewhere first. We have to start with the Hall of Famers to get this off the ground.”
In a statement, Baker said the Pro Football Hall of Fame seeks to help all players, not just those enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
“Many Hall of Famers have reached out to express their support of the Hall,” he said in a statement. “While we enshrine Hall of Famers, our mission is to serve every player who helped build this great game. We guard the legacies and seek to serve all players and not just Hall of Famers who we serve every day.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.