A group of high-profile Pro Football Hall of Famers, including Jim Brown, Joe Namath and Lawrence Taylor, is threatening to boycott the annual ceremony in Canton, Ohio, unless they receive health insurance and an annual salary. The group made its demands in a letter sent Tuesday to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Hall of Fame President C. David Baker.
“We, the undersigned Pro Football Hall of Famers, were integral to the creation of the modern NFL, which in 2017 generated $14 billion in revenue,” the letter begins. “But when the league enshrined us as the greatest ever to play America’s most popular sport, they gave us a gold jacket, a bust and a ring — and that was it.
“People know us from our highlight reels. They see us honored and mythologized before games and at halftime, and it would be reasonable if they thought life was good for us. But on balance, it’s not. As a group we are struggling with severe health and financial problems. 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. We believe we deserve more. We write to demand two things: health insurance and annual salary for all Hall of Famers that includes a share of league revenue.”
The letter was sent by Eric Dickerson, the former running back who has been named the chairman of the newly created Hall of Fame Board, and signed by board members Marcus Allen, Mel Blount, Derrick Brooks, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Richard Dent, Carl Eller, Marshall Faulk, Mike Haynes, Rickey Jackson, Ronnie Lott, Curtis Martin, Joe Namath, John Randle, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jackie Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Kurt Warner and Sarah White, Reggie White’s widow.
However, at least two signees took issue with the contents of letter. Kurt Warner tweeted that, while he appreciated and supports “the efforts of those spearheading this movement,” he “was not made aware of this letter and my name was mistakenly attached to it.” Warner added that he hopes “all sides will come together and have serious conversations about what needs to be accomplished.”
Jerry Rice echoed that, tweeting that he is “not a part of a players' Hall of Fame board of directors as referenced” in the letter. He went on to say that, while he hopes that “meaningful discussions” on the issue continue “especially as we near a new collective bargaining agreement,” he looks forward to attending the Hall’s 100th anniversary in 2020.
The letter claims that health insurance for Hall of Fame players would cost less than $4 million, “less than that of a 30-second Super Bowl ad, or about 3 cents for every $100 the league generates in revenue.” It also makes reference to the salaries of both Goodell ($40 million annually) and Smith ($4.5 million per year “with an $8 million trust,” the letter says) and notes that any Major League Baseball player who has appeared on a roster “for one day is entitled to health insurance for the rest of his life. A player employed on a roster for 43 days gets a lifelong pension.”
“Meanwhile, many of us Hall of Fame players can’t walk and many can’t sleep at night,” the letter says in reference to Goodell’s salary. “More than a few of us don’t even know who or where we are. Our long careers left us especially vulnerable to the dangers of this violent sport, especially those intentionally hidden from us. Commissioner Goodell, there are better uses for that money.”
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a nonprofit organization that is separate from the NFL, though the Canton Repository noted in 2014 that the league “has contributed tens of millions of dollars to various projects.” In its most recent tax filing, reviewed in August by the New York Times, the Hall of Fame claimed $29 million in revenue. Construction of a multimillion-dollar expansion project known as the Hall of Fame Village, which will incorporate a hotel and other amenities into the area, is expected to restart this fall after a troubled gestation period, with hopes of completion by 2020 for the NFL’s 100th anniversary.
The protesting Hall of Famers see that as a key date.
“The time has come for us to be treated as part of a game we’ve given so much to,” the letter states. “Until our demands are met, the Hall of Famers will not attend the annual induction ceremony in Canton. It’s well-known that the NFL is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020, and while we are proud of our role in building this league, we don’t believe 100 years of player exploitation is something to celebrate. As we approach this momentous date, we challenge the NFL to honor its past by helping retired players instead of exploiting their images for marketing purposes.”
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