Group of Hall of Famers threaten boycott until NFL provides insurance, salaries

4:58 PM ET

In a letter sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame 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 that 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, which is chaired by Eric Dickerson.

The letter, obtained by ESPN, was sent by Dickerson and was 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.”

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.”

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.”

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