NFL Hall of Famers threaten boycott without health care, salaries

Several high-profile members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame advised the NFL and union they plan to boycott the annual induction ceremony over health, pension benefits.

Retired NFL players for years have been fighting with the league and its players union over health care and pension benefits and a group of high-profile members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame upped the ante in the battle Tuesday, threatening a boycott of the annual induction ceremony.

Hall of Famers led by Eric Dickerson have formed what is being called the Hall of Fame Board, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN, and sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith and C. David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The letter says the players plan to boycott the induction ceremonies in Canton until their group receives health insurance and an annual salary derived from a share of the NFL’s revenue, which according to the report was an estimated $14 billion in 2017.

It is a star-studded list, with Dickerson at the chair of the newly formed board. Board members who signed the letter include recently retired greats including Derrick Brooks, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin and Kurt Warner.

Also on the board are older former stars such as Marcus Allen, Mel Blount, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Richard Dent, Carl Eller, Mike Haynes, RIckey Jackson, Joe Namath, John Randle, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jackie Smith and Lawrence Taylor.

The letter is also signed by Sarah White, the widow of the late Reggie White.

From the letter, which begins by claiming their vital role in the creation of today’s NFL:

“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.

“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.”

According to the group, the cost for providing health insurance for every member of the Hall of Fame would be less than $4 million — roughly 3 cents on every $100 in league revenue.

This is an argument that is unpopular with many fans, who see today’s players commanding eight-figure salaries and make the leap that every player who ever played was compensated as handsomely.

The Hall of Fame Board took particular issue with two specific items: the $40 million annual salary of Goodell and the $1 billion being spent to build a Hall of Fame Village in Canton.

“Meanwhile, many of us Hall of Fame players can’t walk and many can’t sleep at night. 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.”

Dickerson said while the proposal calls for Hall of Fame players to be provided health insurance, the long-term goal is to get that benefit for all former players in the NFL.

“I want health care for every player, that’s my goal. 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.”

Dickerson added that he is hopeful the league and the Hall of Famers can reach a deal that will eventually benefit all NFL players.

When you think of the many ways the league has profited from these players, from the tickets sold to the videotapes and DVRs of their greatest and most violent hits that have been purchased by fans — not to mention the overall growth in popularity of the sport — and it’s not hard to see where the all-time greats are coming from.

According to Dickerson, post-career health care benefits expire after five years, even though many of the medical conditions being dealt with by former players are life-long.

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I mean, if the league can toss $40 million to a guy in a suit who is wildly unpopular with fans, scraping together 10 percent of that to take care of the guys who made the game what it is today seems easy enough to accomplish.

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