nfl hall of famers demand salary and health insurance

September 19, 2018

The old white men that run the NFL are not strangers to controversy (racism, sexual harassment, abuse, you name it) so it’s no surprise that exploitation wouldn’t be far behind. The NFL generated S14 billion in revenue in 2017, according to a letter addressed to the NFL by a group of high-profile Pro Football Hall of Famers who sit on the Hall of Fame Board. The letter details the intention of board members to boycott the Hall of Fame annual ceremony unless they receive health insurance and an annual salary. Eric Dickerson, newly minted Hall of Fame Board Chairman and former league running back, sent the letter which was signed by 24 other board members including the widow of Reggie White.

“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 Washington Post

Football players giving their bodies and their mind to the game is sadly, not an exaggeration in the wake of growing evidence that forced the league to walk back their assertion that football was not responsible for the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In a New York Times piece penned by Emily Kelly, wife of retired NFL player Rob Kelly, the mother of three goes into detail about the drastic yet steady change in her husband’s behavior. Kelly even describes joining a Facebook group dedicated to wives of spouses sharing similar experiences of erratic behavior and degenerative symptoms displayed by their husbands. “For decades, it was not well understood that football can permanently harm the brain. Otherwise, many parents would most likely not have signed their boys up to play,” she wrote. “But this reality was obscured by the N.F.L.’s top medical experts, who for years had denied any link between the sport and long-term degenerative brain diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”

Frontline created a timeline of the NFL’s “Concussion Crisis”, which portrays acknowledgment of the issue by the league as far back as 1994 when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue created the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee. It was 15 years before any league official publicly conceded that concussions sustained in football have long-term consequences. The mounting evidence—most notably CTE being found in brains of 100 dead players  is proof enough that Dickerson and company have grounds for their demands. The letter also claims that it would cost less than $4 million to cover health insurance, and that figure in comparison with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s $40 million dollar salary is a solid argument.

When Houston Texans owner Bob McNair chose to comment: “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” in a private discussion about players kneeling in protest, it was merely confirmation of true ethos of the NFL. Colin Kaepernick is being blacklisted for using the platform he worked to attain as a means to communicate an issue that should be in the forefront of the American psyche. The NFL responded with threats and fines in order to quell players from expressing their displeasure. It’s the “shut up and dribble” doctrine racists revisit time again; black people should entertain the masses and die quietly so the country can enjoy its racial ignorance in peace.

Like America, the power and money sits right at the top of the NFL while the game is played and sustained by the very players NFL heads consider disposable. The blatant racism is emblematic of a bigger culture of exploitation within the NFL, mirrored by the culture of exploitation that birthed these United States. It is commendable for the Hall of Famers to ask for what is theirs; It’s the courage to stand up and say something that Kaepernick ushered in with solemn a kneel. Perhaps we’ll look back on it as the gesture that shifted the tide.