WASHINGTON -- His body battered and bruised by a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, Joe DeLamielleure limped to the podium to state his case.
"We've earned the right to have a livable pension," the former guard with the Bills and Browns said after detailing his lengthy resume of surgeries. "The NFL is the most lucrative sport on the planet and they can't take care of 2,000 guys? That's wrong."
DeLamielleure was one of a collection of NFL Hall of Famers and current players who held a press conference Monday backing a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, demanding better benefits for former players.
Carl Eller, one of the plaintiffs, says the league has not done what is "fair and right" in supporting the financial and medical concerns of former players. He was joined at the National Press Club by Hall of Famers Lem Barney, Elvin Bethea and Paul Krause, among others, each of whom detailed the struggles they have had in their post-NFL lives trying to receive benefits from the league.
"These are real people, real players and real pain," Eller said. "Football is a game; life is not. We are suffering from the game."
The former players said they wanted their concerns to be heard and considered in lockout negotiations between the players and NFL owners. And while many of the former players expressed disdain with the players union, the lawyer representing Eller's suit expressed confidence that the issue of retired player benefits would be addressed in any deal.
"We are absolutely confident that a resolution can be reached that would do, as the league has said, what is fair and right on behalf of the retirees," attorney Michael Hausfeld said. "Today is the time, before the owners meet and before this hopefully moves to conclusion, that these interests can be heard and these needs can be resolved."
While the event was an opportunity for former players to detail their concerns, about a dozen current or recently retired players attended to show their support for the cause, earning warm greetings from their counterparts.
"These are courageous men and I came here for them," Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "I came here for the current players because this is far from the glitz and glamour of the NFL. If you're talking to a 24-year-old young man, he's not thinking about these types of issues, so we have to bring these issues to the public, so everybody is aware of exactly what's going on. We need to support these men and do what's right. These men earned it."
Several players referenced Bears safety Dave Duerson, who committed suicide amid mounting financial and personal issues, and potential effects from concussions.
"I don't know how many concussions I've had, but there is a mental impact," said Krause, a former Redskins safety. "I didn't want to admit it, but I've thought of (suicide). You just want to get away from everything. People have to know what players are going through -- it's physical, financial and mental."
Barney, a standout safety for the Lions, said that the retired players were speaking out for the vast majority of those who played their careers in relative anonymity.
"There were a lot of gentlemen who played this game that you never hear about after they leave the game," Barney said. "There are so many guys who have left the game disabled, no pension, no college degree ... we have a cornucopia of men who are wasted. This is really needed."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press