(Article changed on January 20, 2013 at 22:08)
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle
By Diane M. Grassi
It has now been well documented throughout both the sports world and the business world, that the National Football League (NFL) has enjoyed unprecedented growth in revenue as a professional sports league, and most notably in the past decade.
And as the NFL approaches a $10 billion annual take, its largely billionaire team owners have grown quite accustomed to such returns becoming routine and continuing infinitum.
But a wave of lawsuits against the NFL, well publicized in the past many months, may not only put a crimp in future revenue for the NFL, but also in how the rules of the game could ultimately be revised.
This reporter's original intent, for this article, was to follow-up on the piece written in February 2009, entitled NFL & Retirees Remain in Tussle On Benefits, by Diane M. Grassi, regarding the status of the disability benefits of NFL retirees prior to 1993.
But the issue of neurocognitive disorders and the NFL's liability has since then surfaced with a vengeance, and cannot be ignored. And as the result of chronic blows to the head, possible brain injuries during the course an NFL career could be decided by the courts.
Yet, such an issue should not be discussed without acknowledging the plight of the players of the past, who still largely continue to go without; those players still suffering from a variety of disabilities without adequate compensation to cover escalating medical costs and living expenses. And such players formed the foundation of the NFL, as we know it, today.
And such new focus by the NFL, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and other players from the past, as well as those currently active, with their concern of cognitive disorders, has led to placing the original retiree complainants on the back-burner, once again. However, in order to establish liability for a variety of brain disorders, scientific medical data confirmation requires more research.
Citing public opinion, both factual and otherwise, that concussions of players over the course of an NFL career is given to chronic cognitive disorders prior to or after they retire, has led to no less than 113 lawsuits filed against the NFL and by extension, against its teams and owners.
Such lawsuits were primarily filed in both federal and state courts by mid-2012, after the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was ratified in 2011, between the NFL and the NFLPA.
Yet, it seems that the CBA of 2011 has only made the relationship between the NFL and the NFLPA even more contentious, with issues such as the NFL still pushing for an 18 game season and the already CBA mandated testing of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), unresolved.
But many disabled and retired players of past generations, or pre-1993, feel like they are still on the outside looking in, with neither the NFL nor the NFLPA doing their bidding for better pensions and health care benefits for them, and essentially left with no representation at all.
Even though the Legacy Fund was formed as the result of the 2011 CBA, whereby the NFL and the NFLPA contribute $300 million dollars each over the next 10 years, for the pre-1993 retirees its mechanism of distribution and how the health care and disability costs will be administered for these "old guys" remains to be seen. It largely remains a paint-by-numbers approach to setting up a retirement fund in a rather arbitrary fashion. And the average monthly additional benefit totals only $1,000.00.
The legality of such a retirement fund without specific designation as to how it will be distributed for health care or hardship in addition to a pension, could conceivably result in another lawsuit. To wit, the wives or heirs of these pre-1993 players were entirely cut out of Legacy Fund benefits if their spouses were deceased prior to the date of the ratification of the 2011 CBA.