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.