On Sunday, NFL free agent Eric Reid and his lawyer Ben Meiselas hosted a town hall with six wives of disabled former players to discuss how their lives have been affected by the new NFL collective bargaining agreement.
The pain shared was palpable, and the themes kept overlapping with women sharing stories of their husband’s physical and cognitive decline, their roles as 24/7 caretakers and having to fight “tooth and nail” to receive rightful disability benefits from NFL-approved doctors.
They shared their frustration over the new collective bargaining agreement that greatly reduces their disability benefits, something that Reid warned about before the final vote.
“We’re shocked, in disbelief, sad, depressed,”, said Monique Pass upon hearing about the CBA vote, “My husband was on the couch for days. I was worried. I’m like, how are we going to live?”
Her husband is Patrick Pass, a former fullback who won three Super Bowls with the Patriots from 2000-2007. “I can speak for me and the 400 other families, when we heard the news it was like, I’m hearing about a death of somebody in the family.”
Those 400 families are expected to have disability benefits reduced next year — or lose them altogether — as a result of the new CBA.
The latter is the greatest fear for families because the new deal nullifies the previous social-security qualifier to get approved for disability, which the NFLPA sacrificed in a “bargaining trade.”
“It’s a known thing that with the NFL, if you are not almost dead, you will not qualify for total permanent disability”, said Shannon Cason, wife of former running back Aveion Cason. “Disability was a bargaining tool. It’s not a bargaining tool for me. It’s life or death for me. My husband’s life isn’t a bargaining tool.”
No NFL player has been as vocal in trying to ensure disabled former NFL players are not used as “bargaining tools” as Reid.
Last week, he did an interview with Hall of Famer Charles Haley about disabilities former players live with. Reid posted a video of the interview on Twitter and it is well worth watching.
In organizing the town hall, Reid said he wanted to challenge the NFL CBA false narratives he has seen in the media and on social media that trivialized disabled players’ lives.
“We’re dealing with a quarantine right now and a lot of folks think that it’s an argument between billionaires and millionaire players,” says Reid. “But it’s not, especially with older players who played during the time where the money isn’t the same that it is now. That they’re getting help stripped from them is just unacceptable. So we just want to give people an opportunity to tell their story”.
Here are excerpts of some of their stories. Each interview detailed a laundry list of physical injuries and mental decline, and little or no hope for improvement
“I’m married to (former defensive tackle) Ethan Kelley. He has gone through five surgeries,” says Antoinette Kelley. “Now that he’s impaired and his impairment is permanent and progressive in nature, he’s not going to get well.”
Defensive end Amon Gordon played eight years in the NFL and had his own litany of injuries. “When [Amon] exited the game in 2012,” says his wife Roxanne Gordon. “He had frontal lobe damage on the left side of his brain and lesions on his brain, which means brain bleeding. So when he was playing in 2012, his brain was actually bleeding. And we had no idea.”
Each story is heart wrenching to hear.
Cason tells the story of her husband “crying inconsolably” before finding out it was due to “bleeding on his brain” from repeated head injuries. Pass shares her husband’s frightened reaction after Junior Seau died and his own similar fears about his own mental decline. Pass has been consistently vocal about the CBA.
With cognitive decline and memory loss being a common denominator, nearly every wife has been forced into becoming a full-time caretaker.
“My entire life is structured around making sure that I’m able to take care of my husband,” Kelley says.
Added Dilia Simmons, wife of former offensive lineman Ed Simmons: “If I go and get a job and leave him home alone or anything. The last couple of times he has attempted to cook, he forgot and almost burned our house down.”
Sandra Kanardy Green, wife of former running back Mark Green said her family’s future is what concerns her most in this process, and is what keeps her fighting.
“The reason that I’m doing this, I have two children,” she says. “And I would say that it became very noticeable how (Mark) started to change. And it’s extremely hard losing your father every day. And that’s what they’re doing because the person he is today, he may not be tomorrow. It’s extremely hard on them.”
NFL DOCTORS: “IT’S THEIR WAY OR THE HIGHWAY”
The Kellys are still fighting for Ethan’s disability benefits, but live outside of the U.S. and local doctors say Ethan traveling internationally is a medical health risk. “The NFL only wants you to see their doctors,” says Antoinette Kelley. “They don’t care. It’s just their way or the highway.”
Roxanne Gordon shared a similar experience.
“The lead [NFL] doctors again said he wasn’t disabled, which was mind blowing to us. We could not believe it. So we applied for social security and social security found him completely disabled. So the federal government found him disabled, which enabled him to retain his benefits from the NFL.”
Under the new CBA, this is no longer possible.
Cason, a nurse by profession, explained one of her greatest objections to the new CBA.
“The NFL with the CBA decided that we’re going to take away the social-security qualifier. So even though (players have) seen five, six, however many doctors, we now will only accept them going to our doctor and being decided that they are disabled. So all of the men who’ve already been disabled, they now will have to go through the process of seeing NFL doctors, which, based on history, will mean that they will not qualify for disability and they’ll be stripped of the entirety of their benefits.”
Cason had to quit her job to care for her husband. The NFL’s benefits program does not compensate wives as caretakers.
“If I go back to work full time, I come home to a dead husband. That’s ultimately the result of the choice that (the NFLPA and NFL created).”