Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Oct 2006

Remembering Those Who Paved the Way

I got a lot of e-mails and one phone call in response to my column on Al Davis this week. That phone call was from Dave Pear, a former Raiders lineman who disagreed with the kind words I had for Davis. My column this week stems from my conversation with Pear.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 06 Oct 2006

35 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2006, 12:29pm by Dave Pear


by Nuk (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 6:28pm

So how big are the pensions? I have a hard time figuring out how much sympathy I should feel for these retired players when I don't know how much they're being paid. Ballpark figures?

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 6:38pm

I didn't get into the specific numbers because pensions are so complex and based on so many factors. How much they get varies wildly based on how long they were in the league and which year was their last year in the league. But it can be as low as $200 a month for some, and it can be more than $10,000 a month for others. A few players get big payouts if they were seriously injured, but we're talking the Mike Utleys and Darryl Stingleys, not guys like Pear.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 6:57pm

It's always good to remember that the feedback you usually get are people who feel strongly either way.

That said, the NFL treats its injured retirees (especially the ones from yesteryear) like crap.

by Nuk (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 9:15pm

Ah, thanks, MDS. That clarifies things. The $200/month end is whiskey money for the guy living in a cardboard box.

by Justus (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 10:43pm

Call me soulless but a $200/month pension for usually less than 10 years of work seems not all that shabby as a benefit on top on your normal salary. Sure the NFL is high profile but it only generates about $5.8 billion in annual revenue. That puts it below Google, Sherwin-Williams paint, Land O'Lakes butter, Starbucks, and 360 other companies you've never heard of. Operating profits vary widely with the Redskins way ahead of the pack with $108.4 million EBIT while the Seahawks are at $5 million and the Saints $(-4.1)million. The NFL's 32 franchises had total earnings before taxes and interest of around $984 million. Meanwhile Gap clothing had after-tax profits of $1.1 billion.

Is anyone really arguing that the NFL treats its ex-employees worse than those companies? So why do we get worked up over labor rights for NFL players but not for Land O'Lakes or Exxon employees?

Hell, working as a coal miner, a far more dangerous occupation, gets you less of a pension than that.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 10:54pm

Working as a coal miner is dangerous because of the high chance that you will die. There is a significant chance that you'll develop a breathing disorder. The NFL career, however, is around 10 years because around then the players simply start to fall apart, and many of them cannot even work. That is why the pensions are so high- while the chance of dying is very low, the chance of ruining yourself for other jobs or cutting your useful work life very short is very high.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 11:27pm

Yes, but the pathetic thing about NFL players, is that if they had any business sense at all, 4 years at the league minimum should be enough to let you live pretty comfortably working very modest hours at a very unstrenuous job the rest of your life. If you show any skill whatsoever, and actually get a signing bonus and a year or two of salary at $750K plus (say a Greg Lewis or Ike Reese caliber of player), you should be set for life with cumulative earnings in the NFL of a couple million dollars minimum.

$1 million after tax put into municipal bonds is $45,000 per year tax free for life. That's plenty to live comfortably with.

by Kevin11 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/06/2006 - 11:48pm


At The Gap, the employees aren't the draw. As a consumer, I'm there for the clothes.

Big difference between that and playing NFL-caliber football.

by jebmak (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 12:16am

Re #7

That is now though, the players who are in trouble didn't make nearly that much money back when they played, especially considering what they put their bodies through.

by DGL (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 12:35am

#7: First of all, if you think $45k per year for life (even tax free) is "plenty to live comfortably with", you must live somewhere a heck of a lot cheaper than I do. And not have any kids you plan to send to college.

More importantly, it doesn't account for inflation. Because with 3.1% inflation, the 25-year-old who retires from the NFL with a $1M nest egg, invests it with an annual 6% rate of return, and lives frugally on that $45k per year (current dollars), will run out of money at age 62. To make it to age 84, our 25-year-old NFL retiree has to cut his annual income to about $36k/year (current dollars). And I really don't think that's enough to live comfortably with.

by DGL (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 12:36am

#9: The rookie minimum salary in 1970 was $12k. Most football players had off-season jobs.

by Nuk (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 12:51am

I'm living comfortably on $20k/year, with wife and son, in Las Vegas. Of course, most people nowadays aren't comfortable without a cell phone, cable TV, etc.

by David (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 1:59am

#10: $1M @ 6% annually is $60k per year.

by David (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 2:04am

That would be only the interest... the $1M would be untouched.

But I get your drift.

by Zug Zug (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 4:02am

What I'm curious about is any government assistance available to these ex players. It seems that if my co-worker gets social security for a (relativly) minor disability and is permitted to work limited part time hours to supplement her assistance that these ex-players should be eligable for something. Also, what about the situation involving health care plans? I suspect there must be something, maybe not free but reduced rate at least.

I make barely 22k/year and I know in NYC its not even enough to afford moving out of my parents house, but with the addition of a part time job I could do with 30k for a while. Anyone looking for a retail manager or experienced event coordinator/theatrical stage manager let me know haha!

by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 11:54am

#7: First of all, if you think $45k per year for life (even tax free) is “plenty to live comfortably with�, you must live somewhere a heck of a lot cheaper than I do.

I think you're neglecting that that $45k/year is independent of location. So you can live somewhere dirt cheap. Including not in the US.

by DGL (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 12:10pm

#13, #14: Again, you're neglecting inflation. You can take a constant $60k per year interest without touching the principle - and 40 years from now, when the 25-year-old NFL retiree with the $1M nest egg from his four-year career hits 65, it'll have the buying power of $18,200. To counteract inflation, you'll have to withdraw from principal as well, eventually. And then the money runs out quickly.

You can go to one of many retirement planning tools on the net and calculate when the money will run out given a starting lump sum, an annual withdrawl, and expected rate of return and inflation.

by DGL (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 12:14pm

For a family of four, the 2004 poverty level for the lower 48 was $18,850. The US median income for 2003 (latest figures I can find in a quick glance) was $65,093.

by Justus (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 1:02pm

What I’m curious about is any government assistance available to these ex players.

I have read that many older retired NFL players screwed themselves over by accepting a "Social Security adjustment" which appeared to be some kind of larger lump payment in exchange for a lower NFL pension.

Most of this talk about NFL pensions is focused on "those who paved the way" -- the players, for instance, who made $22,000 a year in the 60s.

Now that the NFL is big business does it have to go back and retroactively compensate those people? Does any other business operate that way?

by TomC (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 2:25pm

Now that the NFL is big business does it have to go back and retroactively compensate those people? Does any other business operate that way?

No, but few businesses depend as heavily on good P.R. as does the NFL. If the injured retirees can make a big enough stink, the league will at least open some kind of discussion on the matter. This is a soapbox issue for Dr. Z (e.g., the link in my name), but he's not big time enough to get the NFL's attention by himself. (And they mostly think he's an old crank that can be ignored anyway.)

by MRH (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 3:00pm

I have plenty of sympathy for guys who had their careers cut short by injury aggravated by playing hurt - like Pear. And it is good to keep in mind the differences in pay now and even 20 years ago.

However, most former NFL players still living had the opportunity to get a college degree, which would have given them a significant leg up on their post-retirement income. It's not like it was a surprise to a guy playing in the '60s that his football career would be short and not pay him enough to live on afterwards. If he can't work due to disability, that's one thing and the league and players should do all they can to help them. If he never bothered to finish college, and so has a low income, that's another.

by Larry (not verified) :: Sat, 10/07/2006 - 4:51pm

"injuired retirees"? Which NFL player isn't injured? Playing football ruins your body. Average life span for an NFL player is 55 (click my name for a link). NFL players kill themselves for our entertainment. & you want to deny them a little (relative to the billions floating around the game) extra money?

by ashok (not verified) :: Sun, 10/08/2006 - 1:33am

Look, I don't really care about the comments in this thread that suggest there is no problem because other professions are harsh or that if there is a problem, it's the players' doing.

The NFL players that are hurting are hurting very badly, and charity is not a long-term solution. To argue there is no problem isn't humane; if we were truly humane, we would be looking for the problem. That the problem has to present itself to us is one degree removed from being moral, and trying to deny that anyone should be helped for their pain is two degrees removed.

MDS is right, although free-agency really puts a hamper on what teams should provide for which players that are retired.

The $60 mil a year figure MDS cites in the article can't possibly be enough to deal with the expense of the treatements sports injuries require, let alone rebuilding lives.

The solution has to be twofold: 1. increase the amount of money for the retired players, and 2. create a mechanism - maybe put retired players in charge of a general fund for their benefit - that would insure equality.

The solution cannot be to trust teams in this regard. Free agency means which team would be accountable to which player? And the issue of equality - and I personally am very conservative - is the fundamental psychological issue regarding citizenship in a democracy. If we don't conceive of ourselves as equals in some regard, we don't have a society, let alone a nation. How exactly teams held accountable for retired players' welfare would ensure equality is beyond me.

by andrew apold (not verified) :: Sun, 10/08/2006 - 11:42am

#7 - The NFL career, however, is around 10 years because around then the players simply start to fall apart,

That average NFL career is a lot less than ten years.

by G (not verified) :: Sun, 10/08/2006 - 12:30pm

Jesus, I can't believe how anyone would think that current pensions are adequate.

Football is nothing but dressed up cock fighting. The NFL should be taking care of the players who destroy their bodies for our entertainment.
Does that make business sense? No.
Is it humane? Yes.

by RCH (not verified) :: Sun, 10/08/2006 - 1:09pm

NFL players have something in common with firefighters, soldiers, investment bankers, doctors and Starbucks baristas: they all take the job that maximizes their utility based on the options that they have. They are not selfless humanitarians saving us from lives of boredom. Yes, of course I wish that all ex-players are comfortable and successful after playing, but these guys knew the deal that they were getting into. To be honest I have much more concern for pilots, autoworkers and others who worked for years believing that they were earning a defined benefit and will have it reduced or eliminated.

by Theo (not verified) :: Sun, 10/08/2006 - 1:28pm

Pear, who played nose guard for six years in the NFL

How the hell is a nose guard different from a nose tackle?

by Larry (not verified) :: Sun, 10/08/2006 - 4:15pm

Re 26.

How did you feel when you got up this morning? How long did it take you to get out of bed? Can you reach down to pick up a quarter off the ground? Can you raise your arms above your head? W/every step you take, are you reminded of the beating you took when you were practicing your career? When people see you gimping down the street, do they wonder what happened to you?

Do you like to watch big hits? Do you like it when players lay each other out?

What's the cost for your enjoyment?

by Michael David Smith :: Sun, 10/08/2006 - 10:22pm

Re 27, a nose guard is in a five-lineman formation, while a nose tackle is in a three- or four-lineman formation. There are no more five-lineman base defenses in the NFL, so there are no more nose guards, but that's what Pear played.

by John (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 12:59am

I sympathize with the problems that many of these players are going thru. However, this is not a new complaint. If you read George Plimpton's book Mad Ducks and Bears, there is a chapter that talks about retired players and their fight to get benefits. Most of the retired guys said the current players could have cared less about them. The ironic part of it was that the head of the Players Association at that time was John Mackey.

by Ashley Tate (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 8:36pm

Larry, please stop you're breaking my heart. My grandfather lived the life of physical pain and incapacity you describe for the last 20 years of his life. Only he reached that point after 40 years of seven-day weeks shoveling cow manure, tossing haybales, and wrestling machinery on his dairy farm, not getting paid to play a game he loved and being idolized by millions of fans.

by TMass (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 12:53pm

if people realized the constant pain that retired football players are in, they would have more sympathy for them. These guys are paid a nice sum to entertain us, but the career is a short one and I am sure that many retired players in constant pain regret it. I can see giving retired baseball or basketball players a hard time for complaining, but those are you criticizing football players dont get it.

by joe (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 12:55pm

Football players know the risks and the rewards before they sign the contract. I can't say I pity them, nor do I feel anyone should be responsible but them if they "retire" after a five-year stint in the NFL and expect to be able to live off their pension until they're 75. They can get jobs like the rest of us and responsibly manage and invest their earnings. Surely Pear could have found some meaningful work.

Only in rare instances should the player's union augment the pensions: cases of paraplegia and seriously debilitating injuries, but not for laziness.

by TMass (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 4:39pm

I dont think a 22 year old knows the full risks and rewards when a wad of cash, women, cars, etc are thrown in his face. These teams use the players and throw them out like a piece of garbage when they no longer need them.

by Dave Pear (not verified) :: Mon, 10/16/2006 - 12:29pm

Comment #29
My name is Dave Pear.
I played on a three man line across from the center in the NFL. The time frame was 1975 to 1980. A normal play was a double or even a tripple team comming at me on every play. Also, a chop block, (below the knee), was the weapon of choice to slow down or hurt. Back then we call this position a nose guard.

Comment #33
If you lived in constant pain from disc fusions in your neck and low back and suffered from vertigo,sleeping disorder,hearing problems, blurry vision and ringing in your ears,you might feel differently.