[Marxism] Jim Brown: Football Has Forgotten the Men Who Made It Great

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 8 09:31:29 MST 2019

NY Times Op-Ed, Dec. 8, 2019
Jim Brown: Football Has Forgotten the Men Who Made It Great
By Jim Brown

Turn on any N.F.L. game on Sunday, and you’ll see the league celebrating 
its 100th season. Thunderous video montages and “Top 10 Tight Ends” 
specials will exalt football’s history with one clear, though unspoken, 
message: The appeal and profitability of today’s N.F.L. derives as much 
from its past as its present.

What the highlights won’t show, however, is how many of the actual human 
beings in those grainy films — rank-and-file players from the 1960s, 
’70s and ’80s who helped make the league the $15 billion business it is 
today — are now, in old age, struggling to make ends meet. The reason is 
not that their salaries were in the thousands rather than the millions. 
It’s that their pensions from the league are shockingly, immorally, low.

Most N.F.L. players who retired before 1993 receive a pension of about 
$365 a month per season they played, meaning that the typical seven-year 
player gets about $2,500 a month. Thousands get considerably less, and 
have stories you won’t see on network broadcasts.

One star of those New York Jets’ Super Bowl team videos now lives in a 
trailer; unable to afford a dentist, he barely has any teeth. A standout 
lineman from the storied 1970s Minnesota Vikings played 17 years and 
gets just $2,300 a month (he took some of his pension early). That’s not 
enough to cover his football-related medical bills, leaving him and his 
wife living check to check. There are countless more like them.

Now, I am not one of these players. I was fortunate to have second 
careers, in marketing for PepsiCo and as an actor. But I know too many 
of these men and their families. They need a voice, one that can be 
heard over the highlights.

This situation is easily fixed. The N.F.L. and the players union are 
negotiating a labor agreement that will ultimately split up more than 
$100 billion — perhaps even $200 billion — in revenue. The money for 
dignified pensions is there. In fact, according to Fairness for Athletes 
in Retirement, an advocacy group, less than 1 percent of the revenue 
from each side, the players’ union and the league, would more than 
double the current pension for every pre-1993 player for the rest of 
their lives.

The question is whether the league and players want to step up for the 
men on whose knees, shoulders and brains the N.F.L. was built.

Team owners should understand the urgency. They see old players (many of 
whom they cheered in childhood) on canes at fund-raising events or in 
wheelchairs at Hall of Fame ceremonies. They know that films about the 
league’s history and the heavily sponsored 100th-season specials will 
make a fortune for the teams. And they also know that almost none of the 
players featured in those videos will get a dime of it. Today’s paltry 
pensions are the last vestige of the one-sided labor rules in the league 
before 1993.

The N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, has said, “Nothing the league 
can do can ever fully express our appreciation to the players who helped 
build our league.” I believe he is sincere, but real appreciation would 
be an appropriate pension.

Current players need more education about the history of their 
profession. They don’t understand that their seven- and eight-figure 
salaries exist only because players from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s — who 
are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s themselves — risked and even 
sacrificed their careers to fight for basic employment rights that are 
now taken for granted.

Players of my generation and those who came after me fought to be 
represented by an agent, to get an independent medical opinion on 
injuries and to receive severance pay. They had no 401(k) plans or the 
annuity plans that today give players a total of $2 million as a 
retirement safety net.

Thousands of players went on strike in 1982 and 1987 to pursue and, 
eventually, win free agency for future generations of players. Yet 
today, the sole retirement benefit for these pioneers is a pension check 
that is less than what today’s average player makes per snap.

In football terms, today’s players should remember their blockers. As a 
running back, I know that you get only as far as the men who take 
punishment and remove obstacles for you to run. The nameless linemen in 
highlight reels didn’t block for just me and long-ago stars like Franco 
Harris and Walter Payton. They blocked for current players, too.

The National Basketball Association understands this. The N.B.A. has 
pensions that are three times the N.F.L.’s, and in 2017 the N.B.A. and 
its players agreed that every player, whether from 1966, 2006 or 2019, 
would receive the same pension amount — and free health insurance for life.

Chris Paul, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard who is president of 
the basketball players’ union, put it this way: “The game has never 
before been more popular, and all the players in our league today 
recognize that we’re only in this position because of the hard work and 
dedication of the men who came before us. It’s important that we take 
care of our entire extended N.B.A. family.”

Professional football is a wonderful sport, and I hope it’s around 
forever. But the men who built it will not be. About 100 die every year, 
and many of them are struggling because their primary employer, one that 
is now awash in cash, chooses to give them barely any pension.

When you watch the 100th-season highlight packages, look for those 
blockers. The players may be remembered. But the men are forgotten.

Jim Brown, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was a running back 
for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965.

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