nflpa retired players, nfl union retired players
Retired football player Herb Adderley,
playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

Retired NFL Players Take NFLPA to Court

October 22, 2008 07:55 AM
by Denis Cummings
More than 2,000 retired NFL players have filed a class action lawsuit over the use of their images in video games.

Retired Players Sue NFLPA

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) currently has a $35 million annual deal with Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) to provide the images of players for EA’s “Madden NFL” video game series. Retired players see little of this money, prompting retired cornerback Herb Adderley to lead a class action lawsuit against the NFLPA. It accuses the NFLPA of actively trying to diminish the share for retired players.

The NFLPA counters that there is little demand for the image rights of retired NFL players. However, an internal e-mail sent by NFLPA executive Clay Walker contradicts this stance. It says that the NFLPA negotiated a deal with the Football Hall of Fame to turn down an offer from Take Two Interactive and accept a much smaller deal from EA.

In a second e-mail to a Players Inc. lawyer, Walker outlined the deal. “The per player price for most of these guys was tens of thousands of dollars less than what they were guaranteed by Take Two Interactive so it’s a real coup that we were able to pull this off so cheaply,” he wrote.

The e-mails might not be admitted to court, however. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup said that there is “50-50 chance” he will allow the plaintiffs to inform the jury about the Hall of Fame deal, reported the Associated Press.

The case is part of a much larger conflict between retired players and the NFLPA, which has focused on pension and disability plans. Many retired players believe that the NFLPA cares only about active players, and the former NFLPA executive director, Gene Upshaw, occasionally said that he didn’t work for retired players. The conflict had temporarily cooled following the Aug. 20 death of Upshaw, but the Adderley case may reignite it.

Background: Retired players and the NFLPA

The NFLPA has been heavily criticized for its treatment of retired players, especially those who retired before the granting of free agency and the drastic rise of salaries in 1993. Many of these older players have little money saved, and old football injuries make it difficult for some to find a job or buy insurance. These retired players rely on their NFL pension, which is often inadequate and pales in comparison to other leagues.

At the Super Bowl in 2007, a group of retired players led by Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Joe DeLamielleure made the NFLPA’s treatment of retired players a national issue. The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund took the issue to Congress, which held a hearing in June 2007 to discuss the disability plan.

At the hearing, the NFLPA said that just 317 of approximately 8,000 retired players receive disability aid. Players said the application process—which requires a great deal of paperwork, visits with NFL doctors and long waits—is designed to discourage them from applying. Retired guard Brent Boyd testified that his brain damage, caused by multiple concussions suffered while playing football, is not covered under the disability plan, saying that “the owners would not open that can of worms” by covering head injuries.

In November 2007, Chiefs guard Kyle Turley became the first active player to publicly criticize the union over the issue. Turley, Vikings center Matt Birk and several others donated $25,000 to the Gridiron Greats. Their criticism illustrated a rift within the union. “The walls are starting to break,” said Turley. “The active players are starting to catch on to things.”

In April, retired players and the NFLPA were again before Congress, which released a Congressional Research Service report to the public. It found that the NFLPA is not tracking the health of retired players, does not perform enough independent research on medical care policies, and has an unclear method to determine retirement plan funding. “Today's report validates every criticism we have raised about this system, and underscores the urgent need for reform,” said Boyd.

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