MARCO ISLAND, Fla. — Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark pulled a small plastic bag containing 13 oval-shaped pills, some white, some beige, some translucent orange, out of a duffel bag last weekend, shaking his head. That assortment of supplements, vitamins and medication — which he takes three times daily — costs him $300 to $400 a month.
Clark, a former Redskin, has no spleen or gall bladder, so he has a few special nutritional and medical needs beyond those he considers crucial to keeping his NFL body in mint condition. Yet he’s not the only player amazed at the current price tag on certain items in his personal health and fitness budget.
Cleveland Browns’ offensive tackle Tony Pashos considers twice- or thrice-weekly massages crucial to his training routine. But even the most basic rubdown runs him about $180.
“The majority of us, we are all massive,” said Pashos, whose 6-foot-6-inch, 325-pound frame occupied the better part of a conference room sofa during during the National Football League Players Association meetings here Friday. “My wife loves a 30-minute massage. Thirty minutes for me, you only cover my ankle and my foot. I need a two-hour massage.”
With the average NFL salary around $2 million, players acknowledge they have much greater financial resources to weather a work stoppage than the average out-of-work fan. But as the NFL lockout enters it second week, some players are beginning to realize how expensive it will be to maintain their chiseled — and in some cases enormous — physiques to the standard they achieved when they had the run of NFL training facilities and weight rooms, breakfast and lunch spreads, trainers, therapists, physicians, and NFL-funded health-care coverage.
In a significant blow for the NFLPA, an arbitrator ruled in February that the NFL did not have to provide health insurance coverage for active players once the most recent collective bargaining agreement expired in early March, even though the league had provided benefits to players during the 1982 and ’87 strikes.
“This is the way the NFL applies pressure from the inside out, from inside the family,” said Miki Yaras-Davis, who was the NFLPA’s senior director of benefits and still assists players even though the union dissolved on March 11. . For some it’s been “devastating,” she said. “We warned our players: This will happen.”
Players, even those injured last year when the collective bargaining agreement was in effect, now must pay out of pocket for health insurance. Government-guaranteed continuation insurance for a player with a wife and children through COBRA runs $2,400 a month, according to Yaras-Davis. But that coverage won’t provide for many health and training options that before the lockout would have been absorbed at least partly by NFL teams. Injured players will have to file worker’s compensation claims, Yaras-Davis said.
Healthy players will have to pay for their massages, acupuncture services, chiropractic treatment, personal training, fitness classes and an assortment of vitamins and supplements.
Though such goods and services might be considered luxuries for the average fan, players say they qualify as daily training necessities for professional athletes. And much of it is not covered by standard health insurance.
“For the most part, you’re doing that out of pocket,” Pashos said. “As you start getting older, that stuff, it all helps. Everything. Yoga, massages, acupuncture, it all matters.”
And it doesn’t come cheaply.
Players say a full-body massage costs at least $130. Acupuncture, active release therapy or chiropractic sessions run about $120 each. Weekly workouts with a personal trainer can cost about $1,000 to $1,500, bringing monthly personal health and training costs to $6,000 or more.
That doesn’t include the $2,000 to $3,000 price of health insurance and life insurance, which also disappeared when the collective bargaining agreement expired.
“It’s not a painless process financially,” Clark said. “But it’s not something we want to harp on. We should be able to afford that.”
Some players will absorb the additional costs without sweating it, they said. But younger and fringe players who earned the league minimum of $320,000 in 2010 could struggle in coming months, players and officials said. Though players’ 2011 salaries — which will be paid in 17 checks throughout the fall season — have not yet been jeopardized, some already are feeling the loss of certain other income.
Players have not received signing or workout bonuses, and the stipends of $400 to $500 for attendance at regular offseason workouts with their teams have disappeared. Also gone: the $1,225 weekly checks veterans received during formal mini-camps, an NFL spokesman said.
“You do have guys who spent the whole season on the practice squad; they have multiple children, a wife,” Pashos said, referring to minimum-salary players. “They just can’t come up with the funds.”
Though the National Football League Players Association assembled an emergency fund for players who may struggle financially, David Thornton of the Tennessee Titans called that money a “last resort,” and said no one wants to dip into it this early.
“You have to balance it out,” Thornton said. “What can I do on my own without paying an expensive tab? That’s part of being a professional.
“But, of course, I can’t give myself a massage.”
Players say they might try to cut costs by working out at their former high schools or colleges, or soliciting training partners from amateur teams. They also may forgo or cut down on certain treatments, carry out some fitness exercises on their own, and dabble in new methods of training or therapy.
But they worry about slicing too much.
“At the end of the day,” Pashos said, “my health is where my wealth lies. They’re tied hand in hand.”