Former Washington Redskins middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz (1979-1989) invited me to join the cause Dignity After Football.org – Fighting For Yesterday’s Heroes. The invitation came from Olkewicz via Facebook Causes. Whoa! I didn’t know there were causes on Facebook, nor that a message from a hero of the Redskins glory days could find its way to me.
It turns out that Causes is another Facebook app, like Farmville, that may or may not be a good thing.
I haven’t made up my mind about apps, but how could I ignore Neal? (We’re on a first name basis now because…we are FB friends.) What is Dignity After Football?
Says Neal, “Dignity after football is an organization dedicated to helping the players who built the NFL who are now left without any health insurance and are suffering from many chronic ailments from their playing days.”
Olkewicz is the cause’s leading advocate with 456 recruits, according to the group’s profile page. Dignity After Football hopes to attract 5,000 members, up from 4,282 today.
Help for retired pro-ballers is a worthy cause and it’s a tough issue. Pension programs are not like Social Security where income for current retirees is funded by current wage earners. Financial help for older generation players is not funded in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That is the financial reality that made the late Gene Upshaw, as head of the NFL Player’s Association, sound so hard-hearted.
The pot for real pension and disability benefits are funded by employees and employers contributing to the worker’s future. That sort of funding did not exist for the heroes of the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies as (I imagine) it does today. With the typical pro career lasting about six years, yesterday’s heroes could not have saved enough for meaningful disability support in their latter life.
Therein lays the problem. Teams were not then obligated to set up 401K plans that were not in widespread use in the ‘Eighties and did not exist in the ‘Sixties. Yesterday’s heroes did not save for future disability. Fans were not asked to pay an up-charge on tickets or jerseys for retired players.
All of football–owners, players and fans–owes something to the guys who gave their all for us. Look at this clip from George Michael’s Sports Machine profiling the great Earl Campbell (Houston, New Orleans, 1978-1985).
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Man, it is painful to watch Campbell struggle to walk in the last minute of that clip. The issue plays into the NFL’s concern for concussions and other life-altering injuries.
Everyone is concerned. No one wants to ante up. The problem will be solved only when somebody kicks in something. For now, Neal Olkewicz and Dignity After Football would like to raise your awareness. I joined. Maybe you could too.
Point after: Neal Olkewicz ran a vending business in Maryland from 17 years after he retired from football. He recently sold the business and relocated to Pennsylvania.