Most reports of NFL injuries (as mentioned on chillicothegazette.com) rarely make it beyond NFL Sporting News, but recently reader Vanessa C. Deggins found a New York Times article about NFL injuries that was shocking. The article focused on two wives who are caring for their husbands, John Mackey and Ralph Wenzel, both of whom suffer from dementia because of NFL injuries. I covered today’s large pro football salaries in an earlier post, but what of players who didn’t earn millions and find themselves in need to cover medical bills?
A gridiron great from the ’60’s and ’70’s, John Mackey was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, a member of the Super Bowl V Champion Colts and played for the San Diego Charges. However, today, Mackey doesn’t recall much of his career, or even his fellow Charger teammate Ralph Wenzel – who doesn’t recall Mackey. What help do these former stars of yester-year have?
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NFL Injuries: Not Covered by Disability
Unfortunately, dementia is not covered by the NFL disability insurance program. Although some neurologists say that cognitive problems (such as dementia) are caused by head injuries sustained by players on the field, the National Football League and the players union claim that this cognitive failure is not football-related; the union and the NFL have also taken heat for not covering other NFL injuries (read more at scienceblogs.com).
It’s important to note that these older players hit the field back when there were far less rules; every Sunday they took brutal hits that would be disallowed by today’s rules. NFL players do receive a pension, but it’s often not enough to support their families and pay for their medical care. If these players do not qualify for NFL disability, where do they turn?
Beyond Pro Football Salaries
While the NFL is reportedly a $6 billion-a-year business, ex-players who suffer from dementia (and their families) can face often face bankruptcy. How does this happen? These men are often placed in costly adult living-care facilities (daily or 24/7) that were originally built for much older people. Ex-players suffering from dementia cannot feed or care for themselves as they suffer from mental deterioration, rage and confusion.
Last May, Sylvia Mackey wrote a three-page letter to then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue asking for help. She informed him of John’s ill health, the mounting bills from his care and the other ex-players facing the same medical and financial catastrophe. According to the New York Times, she wrote, “Dementia is a slow, deteriorating, ugly, caregiver-killing, degenerative, brain-destroying tragic horror.”
NFL Sporting News: 88 Plan
Fortunately, the NFL responded with the “88 plan,” named after John Mackey’s jersey number. Under the 88 plan, players and their families will be eligible for financial aid for their treatment and care. The funds include payments of up to $88,000 annually (if the former player lives inside a facility), or up to $55,000 if he receives care, but lives at home). Some families fear red tape, as with the NFL disability plan, but they have been assured this will not be the case with the 88 Plan; only time will tell.
While NFL injuries are an extreme case, may jobs have potential personal costs down the road that employees do not consider when weighing the pay. Whether it is carpel tunnel for a software developer, back injuries for a delivery truck driver, a broken marriage for a traveling salesperson, or student-induced insanity for a middle school teacher :-), often people entering a career do not fully factor these costs into their salary negotiations.
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Dr. Al Lee