Reorganized alumni group opens HQ, focuses on retirees

NEWARK, N.J. -- The NFL's newly reorganized Players Alumni Association officially opened its new headquarters Wednesday night with a focus on the needs of its retired players and their health.

With the league's administrators, owners and some current and retired players in attendance, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he realizes the importance of having an organization -- a totally separate entity from the NFL -- that serves former players.

"The old alumni association was doing good work, but it really wasn't focused on the advocacy of helping retired players in other ways," Goodell said. "We're here to try to help support the intentions of this association."

In previous years, the NFL Players Alumni Association concentrated on charity-related events and finding employment for former players. Now, it's focused on getting proper health care for retired players, especially treatment for long-standing head trauma injuries, including brain damage caused by multiple concussions.

"I don't think any of us fully understood the importance of these injuries, especially with such an emphasis on brain injuries," Goodell said. "It's up to us to try to prevent these injuries from happening and when they do occur, learning how to treat the injuries and properly recover from them."

Goodell said the league's retired players wanted an organization separate from the NFL.

"They have that now," he said. "It's a very positive step. All the attention is good and lends to the awareness. ... We all have to do a better job helping the retired players, whether it's physical, mental or financial help."

All four facets of the league were in attendance, including Goodell, New York Giants owner John Mara, NFL vice president for player development Troy Vincent and George Martin, the former Giants defensive end and newly appointed Alumni Association executive director, as well as Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

"Having the support of the commissioner, of owners and from the players' union really gives me hope," said Martin, who spent 14 years in the NFL -- all with the Giants. "We have a mission ahead of us, providing services that were never available before. The impact of concussions is high on our list and it represents the unknown. We don't know how deep and wide the damage is. We will pay strict and close attention to that issue above anything else."

Mara said this was certainly a step in the right direction.

"The retired players were looking for unified leadership and there's no more respected or qualified person than George Martin," he said. "I know he wants to do the right thing. While what the alumni players did in the past was good in terms of their charity work, they needed to focus on the real issues that retired players had. The owners all have a priority to listen to what the players were saying. It's been a priority for most of us.

"I think the relations between the owners and retired players will improve in the near future."

Former Giants offensive tackle Roman Oben, who retired only two years ago, recognizes the importance of having a reliable alumni organization.

"We need to have sustainable leadership," Oben said. "It doesn't matter if you retired two years ago or 20 years ago. We have a lot of guys who played eight, nine years in the league and you can't just let them fall by the wayside. When you talk about helping retired players, it has to be a constant."

Former Jets All-Pro tight end Rich Caster is hopeful but still a little skeptical.

"I think it's a very big and positive step, but we still have a long ways to go," Caster said. "The kind of high-level NFL support and representation here says a lot. If there's going to be something to legitimately help the old-time players from a health standpoint, then it's all good. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed. There are a lot of players who have applied for disability and haven't received it. They need to take a longer look how the standards have been set up.

"A lot of guys are still hurting. It's not an easy thing."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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