The following is an open letter to NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith.
Nelson Mandela, in the movie Invictus, says "You elected me to lead...Now let me lead."
Despite overwhelming pressure to discount the white South African rugby team, he chose to override his political allies, insiders and cronies to send a message of one nation. I took my neighbor here in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Muhammad Ali, to watch the premier of the movie last year so he could watch his long-time friend Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman.
I watched Muhammad intently focused on this living history, at a rare courage and resolve only he knew deep in his bones: how the great leaders, the ones who re-write history, stand up for what is right even if prison itself is the outcome. Yet both Mandela and Ali were vindicated, heroes in their own lifetimes; icons of courage, of non-violent action, and of helping ultimately to unify a nation.
These last details of the collective bargaining agreement, your first, will reveal how real the words are. You have a chance to reverse history — not half-way — to send a message about substance. Not about the rhetoric of a lawyer or politician, but of the true leader of courage who knows it’s not about pleasing everyone, it’s about making it right. To end forever a sordid and unnecessary chapter that coincided with the greatest explosion of wealth one sport has ever seen.
I am not being overly dramatic. Maybe you are so overwhelmed with advice and innuendo that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. However, I implore you to dig deep through the fatigue and pressure, and see beyond ever further past the Jeffrey Kesslers who see clearly the labor war's broad pieces but have missed the fundamental sacrifices we the players of 1982-1993 made to win free agency rights and a shared profit, respect and role in the game.
You are the leader. You can ensure that never again can it be said the former veteran players were forgotten for greed, for ego, for power. It is the right thing for now and for the next 20 years, if not far longer. Only $1000 a month will not be enough to make it right. A 15-year NFL veteran of the 1978-1993 will receive about the same pension as a 15-year police vet in Washington, DC – under $40k. That is a cruel joke when one adds concussion’s newly acknowledged impact and likely lifetime joint issues. Today’s players are 700 percent richer than 15 years ago. While Baseball's pension would be $200k-300k, we remain brutally far behind. With a new minimum salary cap floor, salaries will continue to explode. Let the NFL Pension return to a shared source of pride for all, and the exclamation point of a true “one locker-room”.
Or live with a festering wound that splits a player nation in two.