Eric Dickerson, Chairman of the Hall of Fame Board (newly created), sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and HOF President David Baker demanding health insurance and an annual salary (i.e. share of league revenue) for the Hall’s living alumni. The group argues they were “integral to the creation of the modern NFL, which in 2017 generated $14 billion in revenue”, but instead of enjoying retirement have been saddled “with severe health and financial problems.” Signed by 20+ of the league’s most accomplished players (including: Jim Brown and Jerry Rice), the letter threatened that failure to comply with the demands would result in many high-profile players abstaining from future Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. It needs to be noted that the league has had a pension plan (which goes up with each CBA negotiation) in place since ’59, a 401K plan (that players can contribute to) since ’93 and an annuity program since ’98.
Howie Long-Short: Simply looking at it from a cost standpoint, to insure every living hall of fame player would cost the league just $4 million/year or the equivalent of $.03 for every $100 generated. While obviously feasible, I’m having a hard time grasping why just a select few retirees should receive benefits. If the argument is that “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”, then why shouldn’t every retired player receive medical insurance and a salary? For comparison purposes, MLB players receive lifetime coverage if they are on a MLB roster for just a single day and a life-long pension if they’re in the big leagues for 47 days.
NFL player salaries exploded in the 1990s, so there’s really two distinct classes of players; those that played in the 70s and 80s before the television money started rolling in (in ’82 the average salary of the league’s QBs was $160K) and those that started their careers after the ’87 lockout. Guys like Jim Brown, Joe Namath and Carl Eller were an instrumental part of the league’s early success and can likely use the league’s financial assistance, but I’m having a hard time grasping why guys like Kurt Warner ($62 million), Marshall Faulk ($49 million) and Curtis Martin ($47 million) are on the list; those guys were paid as franchise players at a time when the league was already generating billions/year in revenue.
Dickerson’s letter also takes aim at Goodell’s $40 million salary and the construction of a $1 billion Hall of Fame Village in Canton, OH. While I can’t argue that the league needed a $1 billion shrine to honor the league’s past, Goodell’s compensation is in line with CEOs of corporations generating comparable revenue; Les Moonves earned $69.3 million ($13.7 billion in revenue) in ‘17, while Michael Rapino (Live Nation) took in $70.6 million ($10.3 billion in revenue). Those opposed to Goodell’s salary will point to the Ray Rice video, deflate-gate and the anthem protests as reasons why the commissioner is overpaid, but his success in driving revenue in undeniable; the league is generating 50% more revenue than it did in ’10.
Fan Marino: The NFL plans to hold the league’s 100th anniversary celebration during the 2020 season and the Hall of Fame board is looking to use that event as leverage for a payday. Dickerson’s letter talks of “exploiting” player images for marketing purposes, but that statement is more than a bit disingenuous. The reason HOF players show up in Canton every summer is because they are paid (autograph signings, meet & greets etc.) and it strokes their ego. There’s no requirement that inductees attend, the old-timers come because it’s the one weekend/year they can relive their glory days and listen to fans tell them how great they were. If the NFL’s HOF players want to bite off their nose to spite their face, let ‘em.
Speaking of the ’87 lockout, no HOF board member is a bigger pig than Lawrence Taylor. For those too young to remember, Taylor crossed the picket line as his teammates were on strike to secure better working conditions and improved retirement benefits. While it’s worth asking why Sarah White (Reggie White’s widow) is on the list (it’s supposed to be for living players), one can at least argue Reggie’s impact on free agency; there is no argument to be made for scab who has since plead guilty to sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old.
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