It seems like hardly a week goes by without hearing another sad story about a former NFL player from the 1970s and earlier. Some have debilitating health problems, and others can barely put enough money together to scrape by. We live in a time in which our athletes are overvalued, but the abuse that old players took for very little pay is troubling (there are enough ex-linemen dropping dead at the age of 50 to see that).
So, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for the millionaires playing in today’s NFL to chip in a small percentage of their salary to help the guys who paved the way for them. In fact, Vikings center Matt Birk sent a letter to all 1,700 players in the league asking them to donate a portion of their check for one game in December to the Gridiron Greats Asssistance Fund, which provides help to ex-players with health and/or financial issues.
So how many decided that it was a worthy cause? About 20.
According to the STAR-TRIBUNE in Minnesota, only about 1 percent of players donated to the fund — less than last year. Birk, who donated $50,000 himself, remains committed to helping out the alumni:
“It’s not going to deter me from getting the message out there,” said Birk, who was honored at the Super Bowl as a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. “I’m going to fight for this cause. It’s in the best interests of everybody involved in this league. We’re going to pick it apart and figure out how we can do better.”
Perhaps the players needed to be personally visited by former player Dwight Harrison, who lives in a trailer in Texas with no running water. Or hear the story of Wesley Walker, who made a good salary in the 1980s but now lives every day in constant pain.
Now, I understand that not every ex-NFL player is left broken and battered and in need of assistance. I’m all for people supporting themselves in whatever way possible. But there’s something to be said for reaching out and helping those who are less fortunate than yourself, and you might think some football players would understand what their predecessors went through to make the game what it is now.
Mike Ditka, who is a board member of Gridiron Greats, pretty much said it all with his reaction to the poor response from players:
“What’s that tell you?” Ditka told the paper. “Would you call it apathy?”