House committee to conduct independent study on NFL retirement system

WASHINGTON -- A House committee that criticized the NFL's retiree benefit system ordered the league and the players' union Friday to turn over information on football injuries, the disability and retirement system and what's being done to help battered and broken retirees.

The House Judiciary Committee has arranged for the Congressional Research Service, an investigative and research unit, to conduct an independent study of those questions as well, committee leaders said in letters to the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).

"Several members of the committee have suggested that Congress should intervene to fix what has been described as a broken system of delivering disability benefits to former NFL players," a letter from Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said. "The CRS study will provide the essential facts to help us consider what steps, if any, Congress could take on this issue in the future." Conyers is the committee chairman and Smith is the ranking GOP member.

The NFL and the union have until Oct. 26 to turn over the information and answer the committee's questions. The panel has not decided whether to hold additional hearings, a spokeswoman said.

"It is common for former players to suffer lingering injuries from their playing days," Conyers said. "I am greatly concerned that many of those most debilitated by their injuries are finding it difficult to receive disability benefits."

Added Smith: "I am hopeful that the NFL and NFLPA will get their own house in order without any help from Congress."

Retired football players have been openly critical of the NFL and the players' union over the amount of money that older retirees get from a $1.1 billion fund set aside for disability and pensions.

In congressional testimony, retired NFL players have told sympathetic lawmakers about the multiple surgeries, mental illnesses and other problems many suffer after years of playing the violent sport, all the while trying to fight through the red tape of the NFL and NFLPA's disability system.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended their system in a September Senate hearing, saying the NFL is boosting benefits when many companies around the country are reducing them. But he acknowledged that there have to be ways to improve.

Gene Upshaw, director of the players association, told the Senate that Congress should give the players' union greater authority to approve disability claims.

The players' union wants Congress to change federal law so it has more power on the retirement board that reviews disability claims. Under current law, the union can only name three retired former players to the board. NFL owners appoint the other three representatives.

The union is also asking Congress to tweak worker compensation laws and eliminate some of the layers of bureaucracy that make it harder for claims to be honored.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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