Retired NFL players don't respond favorably to union's call for support

LAS VEGAS -- Retired football players angry with the NFL Players Association over disability and pension benefits said Sunday that the executive director of the union might be ahead of himself in seeking their support during upcoming contract talks with the league.

The informal group of former football players lashed out at comments made by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who said Saturday that retired player benefits would be reduced if there is an uncapped year in 2010 or a lockout by owners in 2011.

Several players meeting in Las Vegas about their problems with the union said their benefits are protected by law -- lockout or not. But the union says its supplemental disability payments would be cut in an uncapped year, and all payments would expire in 2011 if there is a lockout.

Smith also said Saturday at a meeting of the NFLPA Retired Players Organization in Palm Springs, Calif., that he represents all NFL players, active and retired. He wants the retiree groups behind the union in negotiations to extend the contract that expires after the 2010 season, with talks scheduled to start Wednesday.

Owners opted out of the current deal last year.

"I think he might be putting the cart before the horse," said Marvin Cobb, a former defensive back who played six years in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cobb said Smith must understand the rocky relationship between the union and former players who feel it turned their back on them after they stopped playing football.

"Mr. Smith has quite a lot on his plate," Cobb told The Associated Press. "He may prioritize his to-do list differently than I would prioritize it."

In March, Smith replaced the late Gene Upshaw, who often clashed with retired players over benefits and other matters. Smith's spokesman, George Atallah, said Smith has reached out to retired players, including many who met in Las Vegas over the weekend.

Several former players, including Hall of Fame members Mike Ditka, Herb Adderley and Joe DeLamielleure, have been increasingly critical of the union's health benefits and pension plan, which pays some retired players only hundreds of dollars per month.

Cobb said he makes about $500 a month in pension and has had problems getting disability payments because he had to work other jobs.

"I think the verdict is still out on DeMaurice," Cobb said. "I don't know that we can trust him any more than we could trust Gene (Upshaw)."

Retired players also are angry over the union's appeal of a $28.1 million federal judgment, which the union was ordered to pay the players for allegedly cutting them out of lucrative marketing deals. The lawsuit was filed in 2007 by Adderley on behalf of 2,056 retired players who contend the union failed to actively pursue marketing deals on their behalf with video games, trading cards and others sports products.

Cobb said he didn't believe any of the players represented in the lawsuit would support the union if it goes through with its appeal.

"The easy thing for (Smith) is to write the check," Cobb said.

The players didn't form a formal group at the Las Vegas meeting or align themselves behind one of several groups for retired NFL players. They said they planned to reach out to active players and further push the league for support and the player's union for more money.

Bob Grant, a former linebacker who played for the Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins from 1968 to 1971, said retired players would likely need to win litigation to gain influence with the union that controls the money.

"We don't have a seat at the table right now," Grant said.

But Grant told other players Sunday that he believed the union might be more willing to listen to retired players under its new leadership.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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