NFL alumni board defends director

Members of the NFL Alumni Association board of directors voiced their support for executive director George Martin at a news conference Thursday, a week after a FOXSports.com report revealed possible mismanagement of the financially strapped organization.

“People can write whatever they want to write,” said Harry Carson, a former teammate of Martin’s on the New York Giants who pushed vigorously for Martin’s appointment in 2009. “You see all the individuals sitting here. We are backing this man 150 percent. We are his teammates and we are doing everything that we can to help our team, the retired players community, be successful.”

FOXSports.com reported that the NFL Alumni Association — which began to advocate for retired players in conjunction with Martin’s hiring — has slid deeper into financial disarray and has been propped up by NFL loans totaling more than $4 million over the past two years. Martin also funneled contracts to family members, according to the report, and the charity he founded received free Super Bowl tickets.

Five board members spoke on Martin’s behalf when asked about the report during the news conference. Afterward, one of the board members, former Baltimore Colts running back Tom Nowatzke, told FOXSports.com that the NFLAA ethics board addressed one of the conflict-of-interest claims made in the article: Martin’s use of his wife and daughter-in-law’s catering firm.

“The hardest thing to do when you’re president (of an organization) is not to get your family involved,” said Nowatzke, a member of the ethics board. “He should have discussed that with the board. He’s been to the woodshed for that . . . It’s not 100 percent what should be done, but it won’t happen anymore.”

Former New York Giants running back Randy Minnear said Martin had been properly vetted during the hiring process, even though FOXSports.com learned that the company hired to run background checks failed to find three Martin bankruptcy filings.

“I sat on the search committee,” Minnear said. “We did our jobs. We did the right thing. We know who George Martin is. We know what he stands for. We know his integrity. We are all very proud to serve with him.”

Martin, who previously declined FOXSports.com interview requests, said afterward he welcomed the board’s backing.

“It’s validation to have support for them speaking (out) across the board," Martin said. "That’s when the trickle begins to build. People start thinking, ‘If he has support like this, it’s going to be a positive thing.’ ”

Martin added he’d like to remain atop the NFLAA when his three-year term expires in October.

Martin, NFLAA chief operating officer Ron George and several board members — including recent addition Ron Jaworski — preached teamwork as part of the organization’s new “Call for Unity” campaign as the NFLAA lobbies the NFL and the NFL Players Association for additional benefits for retired player.

Among the more tricky topics discussed by the NFLAA were lawsuits filed by former players concerning head injuries. Former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett recently became one of the more prominent of the more than 300 players who have filed lawsuits against the league, its teams and even equipment manufacturers.

“If it gets out of hand, (the lawsuits) could bankrupt the NFL,” former Buffalo Bills defensive back Jeff Nixon said. “They could turn it into two-hand touch and guess what will happen? The revenues would (fall). People like violence.”

Another issue addressed Thursday were what the NFLAA perceives as holes in retired player benefits. One of the more glaring pertains to widows of players who retired before the 1994 season who are not entitled to participate in the $620 million legacy fund established in the new collective bargaining agreement.

To show unity, not only were several board members in attendance, but at least one former player — Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett — was paid to attend the news conference. A source with knowledge of the payment told FOXSports.com that Tippett received $500.

“Over the course of this entire weekend, there are a number of events we pay players to come to,” Ron George said. “We will activate 50 players and give out $50,000 to retired players for their support of the organization.”