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Mike Ditka continues to bang the drum for retired players

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Mike Ditka, the Hall of Fame tight end and former Bears and Saints head coach, has become one of the most vocal supporters of helping out retired players who have physical and financial problems, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The 71-year-old Ditka appeared on Friday at an event for the Michigan chapter of the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, and he said that he’s trying to fight the mindset that NFL players made enough money during their careers and shouldn’t need any more assistance in retirement.

“I made $12,000 my first year,” Ditka said, per the Detroit Free Press. “You figure it out. Some of them didn’t end up in a good situation. Some of them took their pension early.”

Among the former players who attended the event was Desmond Howard, who said he’s concerned about health benefits from former players from Ditka’s era.

“You really want the retired players to get better health care, better pensions,” Howard said. “These are the people who paved the way for the younger guys who are playing and actually benefiting from what the older guys accomplished. . . . All the reports now coming out from the long-term effects of things like concussions lets you know that we need better health coverage.”

Representatives of both labor and management have said during the lockout that they’re committed to taking care of retired players. Whenever the lockout gets resolved, we’ll see if the resolution contains any concrete actions to support retired players, or whether both sides have just paid lip service to the needs of the players of the past.

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34 Responses to “Mike Ditka continues to bang the drum for retired players”
  1. dempsey63 says: Jun 4, 2011 3:35 PM

    Bang the drum quickly!

  2. denverhighrize says: Jun 4, 2011 3:45 PM

    While Mike Ditka is banging the drum for retired players, Lawrence Taylor is a retired player banging…too soon?

  3. thetwilightsown says: Jun 4, 2011 3:49 PM

    Just remember – Drew Brees and Tom Brady are just as concerned as Mike Ditka about this… right? Right?

    When it all shakes out and the players come begging back with their tails between their legs, retired players will be the last thing on their minds. Bet on it!

  4. scott8nj says: Jun 4, 2011 3:50 PM

    I think if a player plays a certain number of years in the NFL, his health care should be taken care of for life. I would rather see players like Mike Webster, who played 16 seasons, have medical care and not have to live under a bridge, than guys like JaMarcus Russel get 40 million for providing blooper reel material.

  5. chadmurdigan says: Jun 4, 2011 3:54 PM

    Though I’m not very fond of Ditka as a TV personality on ESPN, I very much admire his dedication to retired players, and I hope his efforts (and the efforts of others) bear fruit at some point.

    It would be nice if the new agreement included a clause requiring any high draft pick making more than $5 million guaranteed dollars his first year would have to put a million of those bucks into a fund for all the retired players who got their skulls cracked and their bones pounded in games for five or ten grand a year.

    The NFL, the owners, and the players owe something to those who came before them, especially the old guys who are really struggling.

  6. maddenboy says: Jun 4, 2011 3:56 PM

    Shows that it really is the OWNERS who make the league grow, and not the players.

  7. stairwayto7 says: Jun 4, 2011 4:07 PM

    Ditka was an overrated player and an overrated coach! Remeber he ruined the Saints with the Ricky Williams trade!

  8. txchief says: Jun 4, 2011 4:15 PM

    I like the Gridiron Greats, and I have donated to them several times in the past. I encourage others to do so. Prior to the late eighties and early nineties when player compensation started to skyrocket, most of these guys really had a tough time making it. The current situation where a couple of star veterans and a few unproven rookies walk away with a huge percentage of the payroll is disgusting. I believe the league is trying to provide more for the retired and injured players, as well as making often unpopular rules changes to protect the health of those on the field. However, the fat cat players and first round picks (and their agents and union attorneys) care only about today and squeezing every last possible dime out of the owners, and ultimately the fans. I do feel for the consistently productive players that have long careers and never get a big payday. It seems like nothing emanating from the NFLPA and Brady, et al has any regard for those who came before them.

  9. hedleykow says: Jun 4, 2011 4:26 PM

    There is validity to Ditka’s words. At a Sams store, I happened upon one my personal NFL favorites from years gone by, and the dude was damn near crippled; he could barely walk, looked like he hadn’t been in the shower, and probably spends his days on the couch taking pain pill after pain pill. These guys pay the price.

  10. packerswambulance says: Jun 4, 2011 4:41 PM

    I would not have guessed 71. Congratulations Mike. Tough as they come.

  11. purdueman says: Jun 4, 2011 4:50 PM

    Good for Ditka! The late HOF’er Early Wynn did the exact same kind of stumping for old time baseball players, and even though it’s the right and moral thing to do, unfortunately we live in a society that focuses on what’s in it for me, me, me!

    What Ditka now needs to do though is to get Dr. Jesus (Tebow), on board to help him out by starting to stump for the cause!

    Unconfirmed reports say that Tebow today is at an old folks home teaching shuffleboard techniques in between reading of the good book of course!

  12. bluefan204 says: Jun 4, 2011 5:09 PM

    I get where Ditka is coming from. I truly, honestly do, and I don’t mean even a shred of disrespect to those former players when I say this. I’m just having an extremely difficult time getting my head around the idea that today’s players should be obligated to hand over their money to former players, simply because they didn’t get paid as much and/or didn’t handle their money properly back then.

    Plenty of people who once worked for my current employer probably came up with some ideas in the past that make my job easier today. It doesn’t mean I’m going to sign over a portion of my paycheck to them for doing so. No matter how bad things got, I’d never look to my former employer for a handout, because it wouldn’t be their problem.

  13. bearskoolaid1985 says: Jun 4, 2011 5:14 PM

    The players union should match what the owners contribute (which is alot)

  14. Deb says: Jun 4, 2011 5:16 PM

    scott8njsays:

    I would rather see players like Mike Webster, who played 16 seasons, have medical care and not have to live under a bridge, than guys like JaMarcus Russel get 40 million for providing blooper reel material.

    Ditka, a Hall of Fame player, made $12,000 his first year in the ’60s. Webster, another Hall of Famer, wouldn’t have earned much more a decade later. They and their fellow players built the game, and Webster died practically destitute. Meanwhile Russell gets $40 million guaranteed before making a single first down. And you could argue that contract did him no favors either because it stripped his motivation.

    The surviving players who built the game should get healthcare and decent pensions to compensate for what they didn’t get when they played. And the league should stop paying outrageous, guaranteed salaries to rookies who have yet to prove themselves. It’s a big, big revenue pie. There’s enough to go around.

  15. commandercornpone says: Jun 4, 2011 5:16 PM

    re the big time highly paid players who wanted duh to do his act… the retired players have been and will always be the last thing on their mind.

    brees crapped all over them. then he said the owners are taking advantage of the union* due to capo gino’s death.

    surprised even duh hasnt pulled a sharpton (on weiner) yet on brees and told him to stfu.

    tired of hearing how classy brees is. he isnt.

  16. ampats says: Jun 4, 2011 5:25 PM

    Hopefully the players and owners do something for these players that paved the way for the NFL today. Health benefits? At today’s rate I would figure $25000 a year.max.

    Maybe players with 6+ years experience which many a career ended with a torn ACL then.

  17. thirty1 says: Jun 4, 2011 5:41 PM

    Seems like the players at the forefront of this whole lockout mess are the ones that have to worry the least about not being able to pay for their health care post-NFL…. :/

  18. corvusrex96 says: Jun 4, 2011 6:12 PM

    If the NFL players were concerned about long term health insurance then they should have negotiated this point in the many CBA’s that they have signed over the years.

    This issue falls completely on the NFLPA.

    Once you decide to create a union , ALL employee benefits are derived through negotiation with management. You can’t squeeze every dime from ownership and then later be upset that there is no long term care. It is the UNION’s job to ensure that they get the type of benefits that their membership wanted. Apparently the active members at the time of each CBA in years past did not want it.

  19. Deb says: Jun 4, 2011 6:17 PM

    @ampats …

    Whoa … you’re figuring $25,000/year max for health premiums? My premiums right now are more than $19,000/year for an individual policy. A family policy would be a lot more. And I’m younger than a lot of these guys–the older you are, the higher your premiums. No, my cancer history doesn’t factor in–I’m part of a small-busienss pool and not rated on my individual history. I have good coverage, but I still have a $5,000 deductible and $25-$50 co-pays for doctor’s visits.

    And premiums aren’t fixed. Mine went up 50 percent for 2011. Wonder what next year will bring? I’m trying not to hope it brings hellfire and brimstone to the CEO of my insurer. His compensation for screwing the rest of us is close to $100,000 a day.

  20. heidism97 says: Jun 4, 2011 6:18 PM

    If I was the players I would not negotiate for any retirement benefits. According to the corporations the owners run Social Security and Medicare is good enough for most Americans, and it should be good enough for the players! The owners corporations are why many Americans do not even understand the concept of a pension.

  21. txchief says: Jun 4, 2011 6:28 PM

    Deb, what happened to cause you to express such a rational thought?

  22. gridassassin says: Jun 4, 2011 7:08 PM

    Hey Stairway, which tight end put up Ditka’s rookie numbers EVER in a year in their career? And then when your done scratching your head, you’ll realize he did it in 14 games:

    Ditka’s rookie season: 56 catches for 1,076 yards and 12 TDs

    He’s also the first TE to be inducted into Canton.

    The stuff he’s done for retired players goes without saying…

    And the 18-1 season is the cherry on top.

  23. purdueman says: Jun 4, 2011 7:29 PM

    Why don’t the current players as a show of good faith simply send a free case of prune juice once a month to every former living player who played prior to the days of the formation of the players association?

    After all, what could possibly make these old timers happier than finally being able to get regular???

  24. ffootballontwitter says: Jun 4, 2011 7:35 PM

    @bluefan24
    No one is suggesting “forcing” the players to support the alumni. However, if the union publicly claims support for NFL alumni but doesn’t follow through, then I hope Ditka calls them out.

    Many of the NFLPA’s actions suggest they want to take over health care administration from the NFL: distorting the nature of NFL contributions to healthcare funds, changing the nature of their organization, etc. Ditka points out that larger numbers of former players are getting into retirement age. A change of this nature would dramatically increase the cashflow of their organization and make them a force to be reckoned with even when there isn’t a labor dispute.

    If this is indeed the direction they are going, I would hope the NFLPA* learns a lesson from General Motors, who went bankrupt because they underestimated pension economics.

  25. trbowman says: Jun 4, 2011 7:56 PM

    “I think if a player plays a certain number of years in the NFL, his health care should be taken care of for life. I would rather see players like Mike Webster, who played 16 seasons, have medical care and not have to live under a bridge, than guys like JaMarcus Russel get 40 million for providing blooper reel material”

    This comment was thumbed down by JaMarcus himself.

    If he could manage to hit the button, that is.

  26. stanaconda says: Jun 4, 2011 8:45 PM

    Nothing but love for Mike, but I did do the math.

    His first year in the league was 1961, and he made $12,000. The average national wage in 1961 was $4,086.76
    So his first year in the league, he made almost triple the average wage. In any decade, that’s not doing too bad at all.

    And someone said that a decade later his salary would have remained the case. That’s not really true. While an apples to apples comparison isn’t available, I did find this article
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/03/sports/football/03dolphins.html
    that talks about Dick Anderson making $38,000 in 1972.

    In 1972, the average wage in the US was $7,133.80. So the salary for an elite level NFL player went from 3 times the annual wage to almost 5 times the annual wage in less than ten years. During that same time, the average national wage did not even double.

    By 1970, the league had imposed a minimum salary of $9,000 for rookies and $10,000 for veterans. Both figures higher than the average wage at the time. Even the last guy on the bench was earning a better than average wage, and didn’t have off season restrictions on employment.

    So while they may not historically have been as well off as today’s players, the players of yesteryear weren’t as bad off as they are making their pitch for some of today’s money.

  27. purdueman says: Jun 4, 2011 9:06 PM

    Great take, trbow…!

    What’s largely being overlooked in the arguments for and against this are:

    1) We’re talking here about a multi-BILLION dollar, VERY profitable business; we’re not for example, talking about burdening the small business-person by tacking on additional workman’s comp costs and liabilities; and

    2) I’m sure that ALL of you have been subjected to the barrage of ambulance chasing law firms seeking clients who may have been exposed to asbestos way back in the day.

    Why is the NFL any different? Back in the day of leather helmets no one knew the potential long term effects of the injuries that these players incurred. while working on the job.

    The average age of death for males in America is something like 77 years of age, yet the average age of death for former NFL players is only 54 years of age. Gee… ya think that there’s a link there with respect to health care for former players?

  28. purdueman says: Jun 4, 2011 9:12 PM

    One of the biggest reported stumbling blocks to getting a new labor deal done is the pissing match that’s occurring over projected league revenues over the length of the new contract.

    Obviously the players don’t want to see their piece of the pie “capped”, but clearly there’s a projected excess that could occur that under the current owners latest proposal would simply go into the owners pockets.

    Why not negotiate a provision in the new contract that any excess revenues over a defined threshold have to have a percentage of those additional revenues put into a trust fund for players who played prior to the creation of the NFLPU?

    If the revenues aren’t attained, neither side loses even one thin dime. If the revenues are achieved? Neither side loses anything that they were banking on.

    Seems to me like a simple win-win compromise.

  29. righthereisay says: Jun 4, 2011 10:49 PM

    Public servant garbage men get better pensions than these players….granted their states are bankrupt.

  30. goldsteel says: Jun 5, 2011 1:17 AM

    Sure, now is the time to keep the issue in the press while there is a contract being worked out. And the league should look to the conditions of the retired players that can be attributed to playing football even if playing only indirectly contributed.

    That would certainly be more meaningful then the preening, knee jerk reaction by NFL leadership whenever there’s a big hit in front of the cameras. Posturing, pure and simple. Besides fining players is much cheaper then paying health coverage for retired players. That was hard to figure out.

  31. bluefan204 says: Jun 5, 2011 8:00 AM

    heidism97 says: Jun 4, 2011 6:18 PM

    According to the corporations the owners run Social Security and Medicare is good enough for most Americans, and it should be good enough for the players!

    That’s what I don’t quite understand. How is it that most, if not ALL, retired people/senior citizens in this country, can get by on these programs, but these former NFL players can’t? These guys played a GAME, and now they’re suddenly above the common man?

    There are men and women who fought in WARS back in the same era that Ditka was playing who earned far less money, were injured in actual battle, and are living on Social Security and Medicare. Now why can’t those people, who are MUCH more deserving, get a piece of the action? How come we don’t hear them complaining about being owed something?

  32. scott8nj says: Jun 5, 2011 8:40 AM

    Ditka is not doing this for personal gain, obviously he’s doing well. I agree that players that made big money and squandered it will not get sympathy from anyone, but that is not always the case. Webster may not have made a bunch of great financial decisions but he was considered “disabled” even before he retired.
    (There is a good piece on Wikipedia about him)
    I am not saying that these guys should be kept in the lap of luxury, but give them enough to pay for the ailments that football clearly caused. Earl Campbell is nearly crippled. There are many, many players that are in bad shape. 75% of NFL players are broke within 5 years of retirement. If they really do care about their own maybe they should bargain for financial counseling and a 401k plan.

  33. purdueman says: Jun 5, 2011 10:53 AM

    Anybody who thinks that Ditka is stumping for players from the pre-union era just because he’s trying to pull off a money grab for his own benefit needs to be drug tested.

    Ditka is more than financially set for the remainder of his life. He could in fact live off of the profits of his restaurant in downtown Chicago alone.

    The mistake he’s making though is not appealing to Dr. Jesus (Tebow), to join him on his stumping tour, but Tebow wouldn’t have been available today anyways.

    You see, Timmy gets through leading the choir at his local church during all of the morning services, he’s scheduled to head immediately over to the downtown Denver Rescue Mission to help serve up free lunches, and then he has bed pan duty over at a nearby Seniors Center.

  34. comeonnowguys says: Jun 6, 2011 10:01 AM

    NFL should make a list of all the people who said in response to Cutler in the NFCCG “You’d have to drag me off the field” and mark them “SOL.”

    Sorry, you can’t bark about your toughness and your disregard for life and limb and turn around and claim medical hardship and beg for help.

    Pick a lane.

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