While strong differences and hard feelings remain, the fourth summit of the Retired NFL Players Congress wrapped up a two-day event at the Arlington Hilton with a different, more progressive tone than in years past.
Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach delivered the keynote address to about 80 attendees Saturday morning, and former Buffalo Bills lineman Bruce Jarvis said he was grateful for Staubach’s remarks and support.
“I thought he did a super job relating football players to football players,” Jarvis said. “And the most important question asked of him was if he would support a baseball-type vesting for retirement. And he unequivocally answered yes to that.”
Finding solutions to decades-old questions about retirement plans and health benefits is one of the reasons co-founder Bob Grant helped get the Retired Congress on its feet.
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Grant, who played in the 1960s and ’70s for the Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins, said this summit was by far the best of the four gatherings. Former players, the NFL and even the active players association appear to have acknowledged existing problems.
“We are realists,” Grant said. “We don’t believe that we should place the load completely on the owners’ shoulders for them to take care of us. We can do some things on our own and with the Retired Players Congress. What we’re doing is stepping up and accepting that responsibility, but at the same time encouraging the league to work with us.”
While medical benefits and head injuries grab more headlines, most players wanted to talk about the difference in how Major League baseball vests its players for retirement versus how the NFL operates.
Grant said some 718 former NFL players are just three games shy of getting a pension, while an additional 900 are six games short.
With that factored into what Grant called, “an actual snapshot of a player’s longevity, which is about one and half years,” he believes a change is needed.
“If you play one MLB game, you’re vested,” Jarvis said. “For the NFL, it’s different and then the true compensation packages are woefully low in comparison. Baseball players are compensated at a rate five times that of football players, and we need to change that.”
Staubach said his speech focused on his life as a player and then shifted to things post-football that a player might run into.
“I’m part of this fraternity and proud to be a part of it, but it’s mostly a fun thing,” Staubach said. “I was prepared to talk a little about the challenges faced in retirement, but some of these fellas are older than me, so life after football doesn’t necessarily apply at this point.”