BATTLE FOR BENEFITS, PART 1: "WHY DO I HAVE TO FIGHT YOU NOW?"
VICE: Shortly after Seau's death, Turley called Shannon Jordan, his contact at Gridiron Greats, an independent non-profit that assists former players in dire need. Turley wanted a resource for players in great emotional distress, something that could have potentially saved his friend and, perhaps one day, save himself.
NFLPA: Nowhere in this piece does the writer mention a critical potential conflict of interest point – Kyle Turley sits on the Board of Directors for Gridiron Greats. It is irresponsible to not disclose this fact in a piece that promotes the work of this organization.
VICE: "Your agent kinda helps a little bit, maybe some older players. You start asking questions," former Broncos and 49ers tight end Nate Jackson and author of Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile, told me. "They [the NFLPA] may have said something to us here or there when we played, but really no one understands what's waiting and understand what our options are and what the process is going to be like."
NFLPA: The NFLPA provides agents with a clear end-of-season checklist that is mandatory for them to review with every player. A lot of these items deal with transitioning.
VICE: By the time players are finally ready to accept their retirement and survey the landscape of programs available, it can be hard to know where to turn. First, the sheer number of different programs, operated by several different entities, can be intimidating and confusing, especially for players with memory or cognitive issues. This is something Shannon Jordan of Gridiron Greats sees all the time when players first reach out. "Who does what? What are the programs for the league? What are the programs for the union? They're familiar that there are things out there but they really don't know kind of how to navigate through all of them."
NFLPA: The NFLPA emailed the writer with the following information in response to his question, which he apparently chose to ignore –
When does the union inform players and/or former players about career transition programs? Is anything done to reach out to recently retired players about these programs?
We inform the players from day one about transition and career programs. In addition to reviewing available programs in the locker room team meetings each year, they are also listed on the end-of-season check list every player and agent receives. Information about programs, benefits, etc. are distributed to former players at the annual convention, via e-newsletters, physical mailings, etc. on a regular basis.
The Trust (http://playerstrust.com/ ) has become an important resource for transitioning players since its launch almost two years ago. The Trust is an organization dedicated to former players’ physical and emotional well-being. The Trust meets each former player where he is in his transition into life after football, with customized game plans. Through partnerships with the leading organizations in their fields, the Trust provides access to career, medical, nutritional, entrepreneurial and continuing education services. These benefits and resources are provided with no out of pocket cost to the player. These are benefits that former players have earned.
More than 1,500 players are currently enrolled in The Trust.
The NFLPA provided the direct cell phone number for Bahati VanPelt, Executive Director of The Trust and encouraged the writer to call him for relevant information THREE times. The writer never called VanPelt and throughout email correspondence showed little interest in becoming informed about the depth of those programs.
VICE: Gridiron Greats was founded in 2007 with seed funding from former players and coaches to help fill this gap. Since then, the organization says it has helped over 1,500 former players. Its two full-time staffers receive an average of five calls per week from former players seeking assistance.
NFLPA: The writer brazenly glosses over the fact that Gridiron Greats was doing very little for former players from 2007 until more recently. It faced numerous scathing reports about misappropriation of funds and inability to verify claims of assistance being provided. As just one example, in 2010, the Chicago Tribune “reported the charity was spending just 27 percent on programs — far short of the 65 percent standard suggested by experts.” In 2011, “it lost nearly $230,000 throwing a Super Bowl party.”
VICE: Whether the programs work or not, the NFL puts big money behind them. As part of 2011's new CBA, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to contribute $55 million, increasing by five percent each year, to retired player initiatives. Twenty-two million was earmarked for "healthcare or other benefits, funds, or programs for retired players," $11 million for medical research, and another $22 million for "charities as determined by the NFL, including NFL charities and/or Youth Football or successor organizations." Of course, dumping $22 million into youth football does nothing for former players, but plenty for the NFL's marketing efforts and to boost youth football participation.
NFLPA: The Trust, launched in October 2013 through the CBA funding mentioned above, reached out to Kyle Turley via email and via phone on December 3, 2014 to encourage him to sign up for services -- which include a brain and body evaluation. (More about all programs here: http://playerstrust.com/your-trust ). Mr. Turley never responded with interest. The Trust has enrolled more than 1,700 former players in less than two years of existence. The Trust has documentation as to where every single player stands with the programs available to him. This didn’t warrant attention even though VICE touts a questionable 1,500 number for Gridiron Greats, which took them more than four times as long to reach?
VICE: On paper, it sounds like more than enough for former players to get a leg up on post-football life or to deal with lasting damage from their playing days. But some of its programs are of questionable value. For example, the NFLPA's vocational training programs had 204 participants in the last calendar year, 143 of whom attended a coaching symposium held during a coaching convention.
NFLPA: The writer was provided with ample information that would ascertain the “questionable value” of the programs offered. Since he didn’t ask for the budget or operating costs of the programs, he clearly can’t mean dollar-wise, and if he did, it should have been of interest for him to know that some are supported by sponsoring/partnering organizations. If he meant enrollment-wise, some programs were in their first year and are on track for expansion. We are proud to offer seats at the coaching symposium and that more than 60 active, transitioning and former players took part in our other programs during the off-season.
Public testimonials of players who participated within the last year speak volumes as to their worth.
VICE: Some of the programs do help. The Player Care Foundation (PCF) claims on its website it has "assisted" 823 players and provided 3,505 medical screenings since its inception in 2007. The PCF has received $8,205,507 from the NFL over the past two years, more than 14 times as much as Gridiron Greats, which has assisted twice as many former players. This is why many former players, such as Kyle Turley on that fall night in 2012, find the programs are there, but don't help enough.
NFLPA: The Professional Athletes Foundation (PAF) was founded in 1990 by the NFLPA. The writer was provided with the following information about the PAF’s Players Assistance Trust that he failed to include anywhere in the series:
- $1,954,000 was awarded to players in 2014, $500k more than ever before in a calendar year.
- 187 players were assisted, also the most ever in a calendar year.
- 22 players were successfully treated as inpatients at the University of Michigan Depression Center, totaling $253k
- 33 players received funding to complete their undergraduate degrees
- Over 150 players attended self-improvement symposiums in 2014
- Approximately $250k was awarded to former player charities providing educational support and mentorship to youth in their local communities.
ALL-TIME (By the Numbers)
- $14.5 million has been awarded to former players.
- 1,900 grants have been awarded to former players.
- Over 3,000 players have received health screenings / heart evaluations through the Living Heart Foundation.
- $4.2 million has been awarded to former player charities.
VICE: Turley is now dealing with, not only the NFL's benefits bureaucracy, but also a much larger, more complex bureaucracy: Obamacare. Former players who played at least three games in three different seasons get only five years of post-NFL healthcare coverage. Afterward, they're on their own.
NFLPA: The NFLPA recently established a partnership with Working America to help former players navigate the healthcare system. http://workingamericahealthcare.org/NFLPA “With Working America Health Care, you get discounts on dental and vision services, as well as a personal health advocate to help you navigate the system.”
VICE: Jim Acho, a disability attorney in Michigan who works with former NFL players, ran for NFLPA president last year—he did not win—under the platform of lifetime health insurance coverage for former players until age 65. Based on conversations with people in the insurance world, Acho estimates this would cost roughly $100 million per year. This may sound like a lot of money, but it's a little over $3.1 million per team per year, hardly a dent for most NFL owners considering 18 of them are billionaires, and the NFL generated $12 billion last year. Acho believes this is a worthwhile effort because Obamacare is inadequate for player needs. In addition to the lower quality of care, he says, "the deductibles are $6,600 per person annually under Obamacare and $13,500 per family. So if he needs surgery, deductibles can drain him."
NFLPA: First of all, Jim Acho could not run for NFLPA President, as that a chair must be held by an NFL player. Mr. Acho, in his campaign for EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, failed to impress the Board of Player Representatives during his presentation.
VICE: At this point, Turley begins speaking to me about the NFL's treatment of former players more broadly, mainly how players regard the system as antagonistic: the litany of programs and the humiliating feat of having to go through an administrative process. The NFL's lawyers provided a 2007 Congressional subcommittee, which was assembled to shed light on serious issues with the NFL's disability plan, with data showing 64 percent of the 1,052 applicants were denied at the first stage of review (the NFL and NFLPA declined to provide updated figures). Thirty-two players ultimately sued the retirement board, including Brent Boyd, Dave Pear, and Dwight Harrison, attempting to get their benefits.
NFLPA: Important notes about the cases listed: Mr. Boyd is currently being paid disability benefits from the Plan. He sued twice for higher benefit and lost both times. Mr. Pear is currently being paid disability benefits from the Plan. He has never sued, only blogged about it. Mr. Harrison lost numerous, frivolous lawsuits against the Plan. He was found guilty of fraud in his disability claim and now owes money to the Plan. Perhaps the writer missed this unbiased and more recent link during his Google search? http://www.law360.com/articles/634520/retired-nfl-player-s-pension-appeal-rebuffed-by-high-court
BATTLE FOR BENEFITS, PART 2: GEORGE VISGER'S MANY LIVES
VICE: The real Visger has much in common with other former NFL players, who rely on the workers' compensation system to cover the medical care associated with disabling injuries from football because of the gaps in the NFL's benefits system.
NFLPA: Most medical insurance will not cover work-related injuries, and in fact the insurance companies will seek to recover from workers’ compensation carriers any payments they may have mistakenly made for a work injury. NFL players’ CIGNA policy is no exception.
VICE: The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), which represents active NFL players, told Visger there was nothing they could do for him. They simply recommended him a lawyer so he could sue the Niners for dismissing his symptoms as high blood pressure and failing to properly treat him. The lawyer did not end up taking the case.
NFLPA: Mr. Visger has not once reached out to the Professional Athletes Foundation for assistance – this is also where he would have been directed had he contacted the union for the kind of help that is cited in this piece.
VICE: But this reveals a clear conflict of interest for the NFLPA. Only active players have a vote in union matters, so the NFLPA functionally operates as an active player's union, with former players represented in name only.
NFLPA: This is true because of U.S. labor law, not some nefarious agenda or conflict. Unions can only represent the active workforce. This union, though, has taken the unusual and extraordinary step of negotiating benefits and services that reach back to former union members.
VICE: The NFL's collective bargaining agreement stipulates that virtually every NFL player benefit, including workers' compensation premiums for players, come out of the portion of NFL revenue allocated to active players. A 2007 Congressional report on disability and workers' compensation options for former NFL players explains that every dollar teams spend on workers' compensation insurance—and almost every other player benefit, including medical care, pensions, life insurance, meal allowances, moving and travel expenses, medical costs, tuition assistance, and health reimbursement accounts—is a dollar taken away current NFL players. That is, the NFL determines the players' share of the pie, subtracts all benefits, then sets the salary cap. The more benefits paid out, the lower the cap. The NFLPA has no incentive to help players like Visger. Their concern is to keep the current crop of active players happy and well paid.
NFLPA: (Since this assertion is repeated in article three, more information is available there. This response will focus on Workers’ Compensation.)
This is a libelous assertion that is written despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. The NFLPA has been at the forefront of fighting against the NFL (and other sports leagues) in their attempts to restrict workers’ compensation benefits in ANY capacity. This is a benefit that the players have rightfully earned and we encourage them to pursue to the fullest.
Perhaps most damming of all, Mr. Visger was one of the former players the NFLPA took to Sacramento to fight AB1309. NFLPA staff and lobbyists arranged the meetings with California state senators and congressmen, provided talking points and other essential information to player attendees and attended all sessions.
The following information was provided to the writer, which he chose to ignore:
The NFLPA has aggressively fought the increasing attempts by the NFL, its teams and owners to restrict workers’ compensation laws in multiple states. We’ve led successful efforts in Louisiana, North Carolina, California, etc. to completely thwart or at least minimize the limits of proposed legislation pushed by management to hinder players rightfully getting the workers’ compensation they deserve.
We inform players of the availability of workers’ comp early and frequently. Vital information on the process is on each end-of-season checklist provided to every NFL player and certified contract advisor.
VICE: Furthermore, the NFL has a provision in every contract stating that players can only file workers' compensation claims in the state in which their team is based. Until recently, the NFL has never enforced the contract provision in court. But in 2011, they did and won, further restricting players' options. The following year, 12 former players sued the NFL and their former teams claiming their right to file in California. Several other lawsuits ensued, including a 2013 lawsuit involving seven different former NFL players, who had their claims denied due to a combination of AB 1309 and the clause in their contracts permitting them to file only in their team's home state. The peculiarities of AB 1309 are still being sorted out in the courts—there may be various exceptions for players based on residency or where they agreed to their contracts—but much is still uncertain.
NFLPA: This is false. The standard NFL Player Contract contains no limiting language related to jurisdiction of workers’ compensation claims.
BATTLE FOR BENEFITS, PART 3: "DON'T MAKE PROUD MEN BEG"
VICE: Joe DeLamielleure is 64 years old and still in relatively good health, which is no small thing considering he played for 13 years as an offensive lineman in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps the NFL's most brutal era. He has been married to his loving wife, Gerri, for 43 years in what she described in a recent interview as "marital bliss." Together, they have raised six children—four biological, two adopted—housed three other children for short periods, plus have 11 grandchildren.
In these respects, DeLamielleure is about as lucky as one can be. As he moves towards his seventh decade, the Pro Football Hall of Famer should be thinking about retirement and spending more time with his family. Only that's not possible on his NFL pension, which pays DeLamielleure $1,257.96 a month after taxes—or just over $15,000 a year, an amount that's just below the federal poverty level of $15,930 for a family of two.
NFLPA: Unfortunately, what Joe DeLamielleure does not more clearly admit to in the piece is that against the advice of the union, he chose to take his pension early. Like in every other industry, this option makes the payments and final sum a fraction of what it would have been had he waited until it was fully mature.
Mr. DeLamielleure also came to the NFLPA for assistance with his business venture, for which the union granted him a full license. To our knowledge, that company is no longer in business.
VICE: To make ends meet and provide the family with health coverage, Gerri still has to work as a nurse. At 63 years old, she gets up at 5:30 a.m., four days a week, and heads to her job at an area hospital.
Meanwhile, Joe mainly works as a greeter at a casino near Buffalo, and makes other guest appearances across the region. He collects an additional $1,123 a month from the Legacy Benefit, a fund collectively bargained in 2011 to boost pensions for NFL retirees who played before 1993, a group called the "pre-93ers." Yet that's still not enough to cover basic living expenses, never mind sending his kids to college.
NFLPA: The NFLPA actually had to fight against the majority of former players to convince them to allow players like Mr. DeLamielleure who took their pensions early to benefit from the Legacy Fund. It was other former players, not the union, who thought they should be barred from additional compensation for mismanagement of their own benefits.
VICE: Eight years ago, Congress held a hearing on former NFL player benefits, in which former player and coach Mike Ditka pleaded, "Fix the system. Don't make proud men beg. Don't make 'em jump through hoops. They have dignity. Let people live out their lives with some respect." Benefits have improved since then, but the underlying question that attracted lawmakers' attention remains: how is it that older league retirees like DeLamielleure—the guinea pigs who built the league into a cash cow cultural colossus, one punishing head slap at a time—largely end up on the outside of a football boom looking in?
NFLPA: Quoting Ditka from 2007 without additional context from that time is really shortsighted.
Excerpt from “Payouts to ex-players small from Ditka's charity, By Richard Willing, USA TODAY” http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-12-06-ditka_N.htm
[Twice this year, pro football legend Mike Ditka has blasted the National Football League and its players union, telling Congress that both groups are "delaying or denying" requests by needy retired players for help.
Ditka formed a charity in 2004 to aid those players. The Mike Ditka Hall of Fame Assistance Trust Fund has collected $1.3 million and netted about $315,000 after expenses. But it has given only $57,000 to former players in need, according to federal and Illinois tax records.
(Ditka's) trust paid more in fees to induce former stars to appear at a 2005 fundraiser than it gave needy ex-players in its first three years.
The charity has spent $715,000, the bulk of the money it raised, to put on three annual golf tournaments, records show. That figure includes payments of about $280,000 to a Chicago firm that organized the tournaments and at least $65,000 in honoraria to ex-stars. The tax filing doesn't list the stars who received fees.]
VICE: For example, in 2011, the most recent year in which data was available under the new CBA guidelines, the players' share of NFL revenue came to $142 million per team. But player benefits costs set the salary cap at only $120 million. To put it another way, player benefits accounted for 15 percent of the players' share of the total NFL pie.
The salary cap structure allows owners to essentially make the players pay for their own benefits, further dividing players against former players during CBA negotiations. Owners take home more than half the annual loot (52 percent) and control their costs. They don't have to worry about rising player health care costs, pensions, or worker's compensation premiums. If the players—current or retired—want more, the NFL can simply say: you have your 48 percent. You figure it out.
NFLPA: The following information was previously provided to VICE Sports in response to an inaccurate article written by Patrick Hruby. Again, while it is no surprise this article contained additional inaccurate reporting, the NFLPA fully cooperated for this piece and Aaron Gordon did not ask any questions in regards to the relationship between the salary cap and benefits. The writers’ joint decision to continuously misrepresent a factual part of the CBA warrants serious journalistic concern:
**The assertion in the article about the cap misses several crucial points. First, players do not get paid in cap dollars; they get paid in cash. Second, benefits are part of the Total Player Costs that are calculated each year, and benefits have increased under the new CBA. When you compare the percentage of league revenue that the players received in Cash plus Benefits under the first three years of the new deal 2011-2013) with the percentage under the last three capped years of the old deal (2007-2009), players received on average just over 51% of the league’s revenues under both the old and new CBA. Regardless of what the cap was in 2009, the teams actually spent on average only $114.5MM in cash. This is one of the reasons why we fought and won the cash minimums in the new CBA which require teams to spend 89% of the cap in cash and for the league as whole to spend 95% of the cap in cash.
**The article ignores two other provisions in the new CBA regarding cap/cash. First, teams can now carryover unused cap dollars from year to year which of course has the effect of raising the cap for those teams.
**The new CBA is designed to ensure that unlike under the old CBA that Total Player Costs (Cap plus Benefits) increase roughly in proportion as the league revenues increase. From the first year (2012) where Total Player Costs were calculated under the new CBA based on league revenues through the projections for 2015, Total Player Costs will increase 25% while league revenue will increase 27.6%. The small difference primarily is a result of the player contribution to new stadium construction and renovation, which in turn generally increases the revenues in which the players share.
VICE: The vast majority of NFL players only have direct contact with union representatives during an annual meeting with NFLPA leadership, typically held just before the start of the season as a general overview of benefits available and priorities for the upcoming year. Each team also elects a player representative to communicate more regularly with the union and to vote on key matters, although even that system may be flawed. "My player rep experience exposed to me how much say the players really have in all of this, which is jack shit," said Kyle Turley, a former player rep for the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints from 2001 to 2003.
For example, Turley said, consider how players are expected to review the union's budget at the NFLPA's annual board meeting, typically held in tropical destinations such as Hawaii, the Bahamas, or secluded Floridian resorts. The night Turley arrived at one such board meeting, he was handed the NFLPA's budget proposal—a stack of papers several inches thick—for the upcoming year. NFLPA employees told him to look it over; there would be a vote on it the next morning. Turley tried his best to absorb it, but the financial details were far too dense for a layman to comprehend, much less in one night.
NFLPA: It’s a shame Mr. Turley has chosen to remember and describe his limited Player Rep experience in such a negative light.
Mr. Turley attended New Player Rep orientation in 2002 which meant he was eligible to go to the annual rep meetings that same year. Our records show he did not attend. In 2003, he attended as an alternate rep alongside team’s voting rep, Jerry Fontenot. Mr. Turley’s input and insight would have been valued, but since Mr. Fontenot was the individual elected as voting rep by his locker room, Mr. Turley would not have been eligible to vote, including on approval of the budget.
HOWEVER, if for any reason Mr. Turley was displeased with the process for review and approval of the budget, it was his right as a member of the board to submit a resolution to change it. Reps are encouraged to submit resolutions to address any number of union business matters. They have submitted and passed numerous resolutions over the years to enhance the budget process.
VICE: "Budgets are distributed to players the first day at the annual Board of Representatives meeting," an NFLPA representative told VICE Sports. "There is an optional in-depth session held the next day where staff is available to review and answer any and all questions players may have about the budget and/or its line items. [This session is not time restricted and has gone multiple hours in the last couple of years.] The budget presented to players contains detailed breakdowns of legal and consulting fees, staff salaries, etc."
NFLPA: The above quote is problematic for several reasons.
1) Our emails to the writer specifically said, “Please note all of my communications are on background only. If you need a direct quote on anything, let me know.” He never once asked to speak to an NFLPA official on the record for quotes.
2) If he were going to eschew journalistic ethics and use background information as a direct (and unattributed) quote, he should have at least used the information provided in full instead of conveniently cropping out a portion which debunks his agenda. The writer left off: “The budget shall not be moved for approval until all resolutions, or any items that can affect the budget, have been voted upon during the annual meeting.”
It is clear that the writer chose to either ignore the plain fact on this issue, or manipulated the information to fit his agenda.
VICE: In 2010, player reps voted to allow two retired players to be added to the union's executive committee, which gave the group a greater voice during collective bargaining negotiations than ever before. But the two former players have no voting power.
NFLPA: As Jim McFarland says below, (which also directly contradicts the same claim earlier in this very series) this is due to labor law, not the NFLPA’s desire to keep former player voices out of votes. However, the players in those seats do have influence and they have led the Executive Committee to make decisions on improved benefits, services and even on resolutions that have been proposed during our Board meetings.
VICE: "The labor laws don't really permit us to have a voting membership," said Jim McFarland, one of the retired player representatives during the 2011 collective bargaining negotiations. "We're not employees. Collective bargaining takes place between employers and employees. Our participation is limited to being there and making suggestions and recommendations."
Another problem is that player reps don't take active roles in negotiations. Instead, McFarland and Turley say, NFLPA officials hold behind-closed-doors talks with their NFL counterparts, and then relay those conversations back to the player reps, who remain separated and disengaged from the most substantive negotiations.
NFLPA: We have to give Mr. McFarland the benefit of the doubt and suspect that the writer is misrepresenting his comments because he was personally involved and present during the CBA negotiations in 2011. In fact, Mr. McFarland was one of the former players on the NFLPA Executive Committee at this time and was a big part of those discussions and meetings. In addition, a former player was present for numerous bargaining sessions.
VICE: Voting members and retired players are frustrated over what they see as lavish and confusing spending that they don't actively control.
The NFLPA is required to file annual financial reports with the Department of Labor, which provide a window into their annual expenditures. In 2014, the NFLPA categorized two main expenditures under "board meeting": the Ritz Carlton Hawaii and Waldorf Astoria Orlando for a total of $1.3 million. The previous year, the NFLPA spent $1.7 million on the board meeting at an "ultra-luxury" resort in the Bahamas.
NFLPA: First off, the board of directors vote for the location of the meetings. The NFLPA administration does not control the location of the meetings, the players do.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the annual meetings are held in conjunction with the former players’ convention. The aforementioned hotel expenditures cover BOTH events, meaning yes, these costs directly support former players and their work.
The writer probably should have offered us the chance to explain this, but he never broached the topic. He incorrectly interpreted the union’s filings at least once that we were able to explain before he embarrassed himself. (See Drew Brees question below. The actual explanation is very clearly on the form itself, but that didn’t jive with how the writer wanted to write the story, we suppose.) If he doesn’t ask, how can we correct, quantify or respond?
For what services was Drew Brees given an officer compensation of $2.3 million in 2014, $1.4 million in 2013, and $962,000 in 2012?
This is a very common mistake when reading the reporting form. If you look at the very last line of the report: Schedule 11 – “Appearance and endorsement fees associated with marketing deals were paid to several Executive Committee members. Those fees are included in Column (G). Executive Committee members receive no compensation for their services as Executive Committee members.” For example, Drew was on the cover of Madden 10 and a prominent Proctor & Gamble spokesman during the span you mention. The fees from things like that and other deals from licensees and sponsors are paid through NFL Players Inc., the licensing and marketing arm of the NFLPA, and therefore must be reported on our forms.
VICE: Salaries at the union consistently float into the six figures. Last year, 49 union employees made six or seven figures, including NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith's $2.4 million salary.
NFLPA: Per the NFLPA Constitution, the Executive Committee alone sets the compensation of the Executive Director.
VICE: Still, these salaries pale in comparison to the union's annual expenditures on outside lawyers and accountants, even though they spend millions in annual salaries for full-time, in-house counsel and accountants. In 2014, the union spent a combined $6.5 million on lawyers and accounting firms under the category of "CBA matters," despite the fact that the last CBA was ratified in 2011 and extends through 2020. In 2013, that number was just shy of $7.5 million, for a combined total of $14 million over two non-CBA negotiating years spent on "CBA Matters." Over the last three years, the union has paid DeMaurice Smith's former employers, the law firms Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs (now called Squire Patton Boggs after a 2014 merger), approximately $2.5 million in combined services rendered. The NFLPA did not comment on the specific nature of these expenditures.
NFLPA: “CBA matters” includes enforcement of all provisions of the CBA, e.g. workplace safety, grievances, salary cap, revenue calculation. By definition, this is ongoing and specifically occurs during non-CBA negotiating years.
Just because the CBA was put in place in 2011 and set to run for a decade doesn’t mean the NFL and teams will actually follow it. Take a look at the numbers for the league for their outside legal costs. Then add in their in-house counsel from the NFL and the 32 clubs. Yes we retain outside help, because we have to fight against an army every single day to protect even the most basic of rights for players.
Litigation costs include successful fights on behalf of the New Orleans Saints ‘Bountygate’ players, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Tom Brady. These high-profile cases can be expensive, absolutely, but the rulings that come out of them set the precedent that you cannot ignore the CBA and a player’s rights. These expenses are most often a direct result of responding to the NFL’s violation of player rights.
Accounting firm expenses, including those jointly hired by the NFL and NFLPA are essential to audits and other book keeping measures that help set things like the salary cap. We need to also ensure that the cap floor and minimum spend averages are being met. Yes, these are CBA matters, and yes, they do require outside accounting firms.
VICE: Retired players seethe over the NFLPA's perceived exuberant spending when they receive annual letters from the union informing them that the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Plan, which funds both pensions and disability benefits, is in "endangered" status, meaning that it's less than 80 percent funded. The notices started in 2010, when the Plan was only 77.4 percent funded. This May, union members received their now-annual notice, which said the Plan is funded at 54.5 percent, putting it in "critical" status, or the most severe government warning, at a shortfall of over $1.3 billion.
The only ways to improve the funding percentage—other than praying for higher yields on their investments—is to put more money in or make sure less money is taken out.
That is, the NFLPA and owners can either contribute more money to the pot, make sure less money is taken out in the form of benefits paid, or both. Unfortunately, this makes the prospect of aiding pre-93ers that much less likely.
NFLPA: The below answer was already provided to VICE Sports in response to an inaccurate, irresponsible, poorly researched article published on VICE earlier this year. It’s no surprise that this installment had “additional reporting” containing the exact same mistakes and false statements about the pension:
**The union does not control the pension fund. It is jointly administered with the league. No union official can touch the fund or direct its use.
**More importantly, under federal law, the amount that a player has earned for his pension must be paid to him regardless of fluctuations in the investment market. The league actually tried in the 2011 negotiations to get rid of the Defined Benefit Plan and switch to a Defined Contribution Plan under which players pensions would not be certain but rather could fluctuate with the investment market. Not only did we resist the change, but we were successful in increasing benefits, including the Legacy Fund (for pre-1993 Players) and the Special Benefit Increase (for 1993-1996 players). The increase in benefits is one of the reasons that the plan has an “Underfunded” designation under the pension laws—the contributions to the plan need to catch up to the increased benefit levels. The Plan has adopted the required funding improvement plan.
VICE: Pre-93ers felt abandoned by their union when they first decided to take their pensions, which has resulted in lasting bitterness and resentment. "Nobody guided us through this," DeLamielleure recalls. "They just said, oh, you want your pension? Check the box you want." At the time, DeLamielleure says, Upshaw promised their pensions would grow in accordance to league revenue growth. But, as league revenues continue to skyrocket, pensions only lag further.
NFLPA: This is false. The NFLPA and benefits office strongly advise against taking pensions early. Also, benefits have increased for former players in every CBA since 1987.
VICE: Whether or not "delay, deny, and hope they die" has been a concerted strategy, it is a statistical probability that most of the pre-93ers will die within the next decade. Although the average life expectancy of an American male is 76 years of age, an analysis conducted by VICE Sports regarding the average lifespan of NFL players shows that former NFL players have a much lower life expectancy of 62 years. The majority of pre-93ers still alive are between the ages of 50 and 65.
NFLPA: What data did VICE use in its analysis of average lifespan of an NFL player? We must seriously doubt it could be more comprehensive than one completed by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 2012 which states that NFL players live as long as, if not longer than, their non-athlete peers. We encourage VICE to share what data and what methods were used to reach this conclusion.