In a letter sent Tuesday to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, and Pro Football Hall of Fame president C. David Baker, players who make up the Hall of Fame board are demanding health insurance and salaries for former NFL players now in the Hall of Fame.
As ESPN’s Arash Markazi first reported, the letter threatens a boycott of the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony until the league meets these demands.
The letter opens:
“We, the undersigned Pro Football Hall of Famers, were integral to the creation of the modern NFL, which in 2017 generated $14 billion in revenue. But when the league enshrined us as the greatest ever to play America’s most popular sport, they gave us a gold jacket, a bust and a ring — and that was it.
“People know us from our highlight reels. They see us honored and mythologized before games and at halftime, and it would be reasonable if they thought life was good for us. But on balance, it’s not. As a group we are struggling with severe health and financial problems. To build this game, we sacrificed our bodies. In many cases, and despite the fact that we were led to believe otherwise, we sacrificed our minds.
“We believe we deserve more. We write to demand two things: Health insurance and annual salary for all Hall of Famers that includes a share of league revenue.”
The letter goes on to point out that MLB players, even those who only appear on a major league roster for one day, are guaranteed health insurance for the rest of their lives. If baseball players are on a major league roster for 43 days, they are entitled to a lifelong pension. In the NFL, players only receive health insurance for five years after they finish playing, and only if they are vested in the player Retirement Plan.
The letter says that “the total cost for every Hall of Famer to have health insurance is less than $4 million—less than that of a 30-second Super Bowl ad, or about 3 cents for every $100 the league generates in revenue,” and goes on to describe what it sees as wasteful spending: Goodell’s $200 million contact and the construction of a $1 billion new Hall of Fame Village.
The letter is signed by Hall of Fame board chairman Eric Dickerson, plus board members Marcus Allen, Mel Blount, Derrick Brooks, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Richard Dent, Carl Eller, Marshall Faulk, Mike Haynes, Rickey Jackson, Ronnie Lott, Curtis Martin, Joe Namath, John Randle, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jackie Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Kurt Warner; and Sarah White, Reggie White’s widow.
As noted on Pro Football Talk, one of the signees, Taylor, crossed the picket line in 1987 when players were striking for better conditions, including fuller retirement benefits. PFT writes that “it’s very convenient of Taylor to care about this issue now that he’s retired, even though he undermined the issue when he was an active player and was in a better position to effect change.”
Were the players’ demands fulfilled, they would benefit only a very small portion of former football players: Hall of Famers. These players, who made the most money while they were playing and also have the greatest capacity to make money off endorsements and autograph signings in retirement, are among the least vulnerable. The players’ lack of solidarity with their former teammates, many of whom are also suffering physically, mentally, and financially, and who undoubtedly made the Hall of Famers’ careers possible, undercuts the letter’s message.