BY EVAN WEINER
Eight times a week, the life and legacy of Vince Lombardi is on display on the Great White Way in New York. Vince Lombardi is part of the National Football League's Mount Rushmore for his accomplishments as coach of the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi took over a bad team that was financially boosted in the mid 1950s by dances and fundraisers throughout Wisconsin (aided by the "arch-enemy Chicago Bears coach and owner George Halas) and turned the franchise into champions within three years of taking the job in February 1959.
Lombardi is now being canonized on Broadway in a way no other football coach ever has. But that Lombardi probably would have problems dealing with the football industry of 2010.
Lombardi's teams would win five National Football League titles and two American Football League-National Football League championships (neither the Super Bowl nor the Lombardi Trophy existed in 1967 and 1968 in name). Lombardi came of age at precisely the same time the National Football League exploded on the national scene. The NFL would ultimately become the most successful professional sports organization in the United States but Lombardi's players never did share the financial gains that NFL owners would see with every new TV contract that National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell would negotiate.One of Lombardi's players who played on five NFL and two AFL-NFL championship games (and a Super Bowl championship team after leaving Green Bay) is now making $176.85 in his monthly pension. A player who competed against one of Lombardi's teams in the early days of the AFL-NFL Championship Game is getting $201.36 a month for 11 years of service. Another of Lombardi's guys, Jerry Kramer, is organizing a fundraiser to help his in need peers from the 1960s. One of the opposing players from the Packers hated rival, the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka is trying to shame the league to help out his down-and-out peers from the 1960s.
The discarded and left-behind players from Lombardi's NFL of 1954 (when he began as a New York Giants assistant) until his death in 1970 should have an honored seat at the table divvying up the financial pie, but they don't.
There are more than 250 former players including 50 Hall of Famers who receive less than $200 a month in pension payments.
The National Football League and the National Football League Players Association are facing a March 3, 2011 deadline to get a new collective bargaining deal done. The prevailing thinking is that once the present collective bargaining agreement expires, the NFL owners will lock out the players on the 32 teams and a prolonged labor impasse will start.
The players who built the league and association starting in the late 1950s through those who played in 1992 have terrible pensions and need health benefits. Association Executive Directors Ed Garvey and the late Gene Upshaw seemed more concerned about getting players the most money they could for a contract and left out important details like good post career benefits like pension and health care.
A good many former or "discarded" players cannot get health insurance because they have pre-existing conditions. They don't have much recourse. NFL owners have no legal obligation to give them more money or provide health benefits. The league and the players association have been talking about taking care of the former players health benefits but the associations' turned down a deal that might have covered about 2,500 of 3,200 players because the association's reps didn't feel that TransAmerica would insure 700 of the discarded players because of pre-existing conditions.
Because some of the ex-players cannot get insurance, the one-time players are getting government assistance in dealing with football injuries through social security or Medicare even though some of them are under the age of 65.
According to former players, the proposal came from the National Football League not the National Football League Players Association. The "discarded" players don't trust the National Football League Players Association.
The NFL owners collectively bargained the pension plan and post-career medical benefit plan which isn't very much with the players association. The players association has failed the former players. The players association and the NFL Alumni Association have been battling one another and there seem to be a number of splinter groups that have formed trying to get discarded players some extra pension money and health benefits. Some of the splinter groups have forced the league and players association to come up with some benefits for the discarded players.
Meanwhile another precinct has weighed in on the current collective bargaining talks:
Somehow the National Football League Players Association and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) are embracing one another even though the AFL-CIO rejected NFLPA overtures to join the labor organization in the 1960s. However, the NFLPA's Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sits on the executive council of the AFL-CIO. In September, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he would talk with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Smith and work out a solution. The NFL said no because Smith is serving on Trumka's board.