Some NFL players will donate part of their paychecks from the league’s Dec. 23 games to help needy retired players.
Kansas City Chiefs lineman Kyle Turley said at a news conference to announce the plan Tuesday at Mike Ditka’s restaurant that he will donate his entire $25,000 paycheck.
Ditka has been vocal in publicizing the plight of former players who struggle with the effects of lingering physical problems.
“We make a lot of money playing this game and it’s because of the guys that played before us,” Turley said.
Perhaps best known for ripping the helmet off a player who grabbed his teammate’s facemask and tossing it downfield while with New Orleans, Turley is the first active player to launch an initiative to help needy former players.
His effort is the latest chapter in a very public and bitter feud between retired players and the NFL Players Association. Ditka and others say the union refuses to award disability benefits to former players. In recent months, they publicized the plight of retired players wiped out financially by the cost of multiple surgeries and injuries that have left them unable to work.
They’ve told the stories of former players such as Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame center of the Pittsburgh Steelers who died homeless in 2002 after suffering from mental illness widely attributed to head injuries sustained as a player.
The union and the league have defended the disability system. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told a Senate hearing in September that the league is boosting benefits when many companies around the nation are reducing them. And Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players association, has told the Senate that Congress should give the players’ union greater authority to approve disability claims.
NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis declined comment on Turley’s announcement, saying the union was focused on Tuesday’s shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor.
Turley said reading about the Congressional hearings and in particular the emotional stories about players he admired as a boy prompted him to donate his money and ask his fellow players to do the same.
“Are we going to wait until guys die? Are we going to wait until guys commit suicide before we make a difference and change this thing?” he asked.
Ditka, who coached the Bears and Saints after a Hall of Fame playing career, has long been critical of the union for concentrating too much on current players and ignoring retirees’ health problems. On Tuesday, he warned today’s players that their injuries could someday leave them in desperate need of help, just like their predecessors.
Turley, who came back from a career-threatening back injury, also took up that theme.
“If this system doesn’t get fixed, no matter how much money you make ... you are a serious surgery away from being broke,” he said.
Turley also criticized Upshaw for dismissing former players such as Ditka and Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers as “a bunch of crybabies,” and criticized the Web site page titled “The NFLPA Truth Squad: Facts vs. Fiction” that the union launched to “correct serious misstatements of fact” by former players.
“Who is it for another man to say another guy is a liar when he’s dealing with pain?” Turley said.
Turley added he did not know how much money he might raise. But he said he already has talked to as many as 20 players who said they will donate, and that he expected the number to grow when other players receive a letter he is sending out this week.