NFLPA vs. Gridiron Greats

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It's probably not fair to compare even the most unfortunate former National Football League players to disabled coal miners.

Whereas men who play football for a living have chosen to do so, people who end up in the mines frequently feel they have few if any other options.

But the current dispute between the National Football League Players' Association and a group called Gridiron Greats demonstrates that there are significant similarities between the football players and the coal miners. The lives of many men in each endeavor have been diminished, even destroyed, by the work they have done.

Gridiron Greats, for whom former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka is a spokesman, argues that the National Football League Players Association has not done enough for former players who've lost their mobility, the ability to make a living, their homes, and, in some cases, their minds and their lives. In response to this charge, on Monday night, the NFLPA made public some of its previous efforts on behalf of former players who have needed medical care and financial assistance, seeking to dispel the impression that the union had ignored these men.

It will be a shame if the dispute between Gridiron Greats and the NFLPA, each of which has accused the other of dishonesty, distracts the public from an important fact about which the two organizations should be able to agree: Professional football has proved to be an exceptionally hazardous way to make a living. Lots of the damage players suffer in the normal course of their employment has turned out to be irreparable at any cost. Fortunate N.F.L. veterans limp on artificial knees and hips. Less fortunate ones are disabled, either because of physical problems or brain damage. The least fortunate have died, some of them suicides who've suffered periods of homelessness and dementia.

Another fact about which Gridiron Greats and the NFLPA should be able to agree is that the National Football League generates enough money to make the extremely wealthy owners of the current teams much wealthier at no risk to the knees, hips, necks, brains, or lives of said owners. Even those who regard that circumstance as acceptable should be able to see that the least the league itself should do is set aside a great deal more than is presently available for the victims of the damage built into their work.

This program aired on June 14, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.