Retired NFL Players Fight for Better Retirement Benefits
Updated on Jan 31 2019
The upcoming Super Bowl is top-of-mind, yet retired NFL players are still fighting for better pensions. Football is an intense, physical sport but players before 1993 don’t have the retirement benefits needed to support them as retirees and in their senior years.
With the Super Bowl just around the corner, the entire country is focused on the showdown between this year’s rivals - but did you know there’s a behind-the-scenes struggle surrounding the pension of former NFL players?
Learn more about the controversial NFL pension plan and why retired NFL players are fighting for a more fair pension.
NFL Legends Fight for Fair Pension
The NFL loves its legends, often praising them for building the league and forming a legacy of success for NFL players across generations. But, when it comes to retiree benefits there’s a clear divide; players who finished playing before 1993 and players who retired after 1993.
In 1993, the league and its players signed a new collective bargaining agreement, ending five years of labor issues. The agreement included more than $1 billion for a severance package, a 401k retirement plan and a doubling of pensions, among other things. However, these benefits were not offered retroactively to players who had already retired. This is a problem for not only the obvious retirement benefit reasons, but also because NFL players are very hard on their bodies and usually have more healthcare needs caused by the physical abuse of the sport – which can be very expensive.
Playing FAIR with Retiree Pensions
To level the playing field, NFL legends that include Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure, Ken Houston and John Riggins have started a nonprofit group called Fairness for Athletes in Retirement (FAIR) with a goal to receive pensions equivalent to those of players who retired after 1993.
13-year NFL veteran and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Joe DeLamielleure says, “All we want is pension parity. We paved the way for most of these guys to make millions of dollars. The problem is, we have sub-poverty pensions and no health care.”
The group is raising funds through online donations and has private donor events in several NFL markets. Appealing to social justice and altruism as well as public pressure, FAIR is hoping that new negotiations will lead to pension increases for the 4,000 former players who earned a pension prior to the 1993 agreement. “One of the important things in appealing to the union and the current players is that they’ve held themselves out now as social justice warriors,” Lisa Marie Riggins, attorney and wife of NFL alum John Riggins fighting for a larger pension says. “So I think the timing is perfect to make our case. I say to them, ‘Look inside your very own house,’ because there’s some justice that can be done.”
Preparing for New Negotiations
Meanwhile, the NFLPA holds that they are upholding their end of the deal. Former Falcons linebacker Dewey McClain and a member of the current National Football League Players Association’s (NFLPA) executive board remarks that every collective bargaining agreement has increased pensions and benefits for former players. He adds, “People overlook the fact that active players not only pay for benefits, but that today’s players pay a higher percentage of their salaries toward pension than in any other era. Former players are most effective when we unite to have NFL owners contribute to the pensions of former players like we did in 2011.”
As the current deal expires in 2021, FAIR is gearing up for a fight and press the union to consider those who built the NFL and not just current players. Lisa Marie Riggins notes, “The time is now. If we don’t get a seat at the table and give these guys a voice, it’s not going to happen.”
FAIR acknowledges that the NFLPA does not have a fiduciary duty to raise pensions - but more of a moral obligation. Karen Friedman, executive vice president and policy director of the Pension Rights Center says she sees this theme repeated in other industries.
Striving for a Good Retirement For All Retirees
Hockey, baseball and basketball leagues have all realized that their league pioneers deserve more credit. She says, “If the NFL is making record profits, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t want to raise the pensions of those who helped build the league.”
In addition to our nation’s athletes, every day Americans need to do their due-diligence to prepare for their future financial stability. An expert financial advisor can help determine whether you have any planning gaps in your retirement plan and can help strategize investments that will help set you up for retirement success.
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