One of the fears, as owners and players were working out the details of a new collective bargaining agreement, was that former players might get short shrift in the process primarily because they're retired, don't generate revenue, and provide little incentive for owners to make concessions on their behalf during negotiations.
What started out as a contentious process has been relatively cordial in recent weeks. So much so that even advocates for former players are cautiously optimistic. Over the next decade, owners and players have agreed to add $1 billion in benefits to help retired players, and that includes $620 million toward increased pensions, long-term care insurance, and disability benefits to those who played before television revenues and salaries sky-rocketed, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
‘‘If what they’re saying is reality, it’s terrific — it’s what it should be,’’ said former player and head coach Mike Ditka, who has been outspoken on this issue. ‘‘You should take care of the guys who helped make the game what it is. Maybe now I can get out of the business.’’
Still, Ditka remains wary. The Sun-Times' Neil Hayes writes that "There’s no consensus on who will receive benefits, who will disperse them or what restrictions will be put on the available funds. An especially acute concern is the routine denial of assistance for needy players who apply for help, as has occurred in the past."
Earlier this month, former Bears running back Gale Sayers ripped the NFL for not doing more for John Mackey, the Hall of Fame tight end who died from frontotemporal dementia, a condition brought on by repeated blows to the head during his playing days with the Baltimore Colts.
"The (pioneers of the game) played for $5,000 a year, or $10,000 or $15,000," Sayers said at the time. "They played for that much money so that these players got $10 million or $20 million a year. Today's players think they did it by themselves. It’s unbelievable how they could think and feel that way."
After the latest news, Sayers sounded equal parts relieved and thankful. ‘‘It was a long time coming, no question about it," Sayers said, according to the Sun-Times. ‘‘If it’s true, I’m very, very happy. Thanks to the players and the National Football League for going back and getting those players the money they need.’’