Posted by: Lunchbox | June 14, 2007

From the NFL to the Poor House

(I’m on vacation, but I wanted to post this anyway…)

Lately, the talk of inadequate retirement benefits for former NFL players has been a hot topic. Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Joe DeLamielleure have been the most vocal crusaders for the ex-players’ cause to date. They are both representatives for the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund which tries to meet the needs of former NFL players who are struggling to make ends meet on their NFL pensions. Most of these individuals are hurting financially because of the huge medical costs associated with injuries incurred in their chosen profession. Many have back problems, leg and knee problems, and joint problems. There are guys in their 30’s walking with canes.

Brian DeMarco is a 35 year old former linemen that retired in 2000 after injuries cost him his career. He and his family have been homeless three times in the last four years because he has tapped out his savings on medical bills. You can see the video interview with DeMarco and Ditka here. It is quite an unfortunate situation and there should be a reasonable solution.

It reminds me of the same situation facing the United States military right now. The subject has been an issue for a while, but was brought into focus with the problems that surfaced at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In February, the Washington Post published a series documenting the neglect of many outpatient soldiers and family members at the facility. For many attempting to receive care, there are nearly insurmountable bureaucratic hoops to jump through. These people are some of the great heroes of our country and the government is just plain using them.

Not only are soldiers’ tours of duty being doubled and tripled on a regular basis (up from six months to 18 months or more), not only are soldiers receiving inadequate training and supplies in the field (families hold fund-raisers to send flak jackets and vehicle armor for the Humvees to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan), and not only are these soldiers who put their lives on the line receiving less and less support from the citizens they fight for, but now their own military bureaucracy is not taking care of them the way it should. These men and women put themselves in perilous situations on a daily basis, regularly in direct conflict with their health. Whether they are maimed by IEDs blowing them up on patrol or they are suffering from mental disorders which are direct result of combat, their needs should be met without miles and miles of red tape.

I realize that these issues are part of a larger problem with health care business in our country, but both organizations should recognize the debt that is owed to the individuals that have made them what they are today: the premier sports league in the country and the premiere military force in the world. I’m not trying to compare athletes to soldiers here, because they are not. They play a game. They don’t go to work knowing that people want to kill them by any means necessary. However, I think these are correlating issues that need to be rectified.

Check out the links if you want to learn more…

Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund: Provides financial and support services to retired NFL players in dire need.

Freedom Is Not Free: An organization dedicated to supporting soldiers (and their families) who have been injured or killed in action.

Walter Reed – The Wounded Warrior at Home: Continued coverage by the Washington Post of Walter Reed Army Medical Facility.



  1. Well-argued, Lunchbox. Correlated is the perfect word.

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