NFLPA ‘disrespectful’ in retiree meeting

The lines of communication between the two largest advocates for retired NFL players probably won’t stay open for long.

For the first time since both took office, the executive directors for the NFL Players Association (DeMaurice Smith) and NFL Alumni Association (George Martin) met earlier this week at the former’s annual meeting in Marco Island, Fla. But while Martin claimed Friday on Sirius NFL Radio that positive developments came from the session, he painted a far more negative picture privately.

In an NFL Alumni Association memo obtained by, Martin described the atmosphere of his meeting with the NFLPA as "very defiant, accusatory, and outright disrespectful.” Martin also bemoaned the fact he didn’t get the one-on-one meeting with Smith that he had hoped. Among those in the NFLPA contingent was Smith as well as a host of the association’s retired player advocates.

"I was very pleased that we as similar individuals who are retired NFL players eventually came together and talked about some of the things relevant and pertinent amongst us," Martin told me Friday on Sirius NFL Radio. "While I don’t think the results were what any of us would have anticipated, it nevertheless represented a good first step in us coming together and having dialogue. I think that’s the most important thing."

A former NFLPA president while a New York Giants linebacker, Martin has stressed the need to find a "common voice" with the NFLPA when it comes to the improved medical and pension benefits being negotiated in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NFLPA, though, has shown no interest in close affiliation with the NFL Alumni Association because the latter has strong financial ties to the league.

News of Martin’s scathing criticism of the NFLPA — combined with praise for the response of NFL owners in the memo — will likely halt any further dialogue for the immediate future.

"Despite these most recent actions by the union, NFL Alumni will not be deterred in our mission of gaining improved quality of life benefits for all retired NFL players. We will continue to tirelessly pressure NFL owners and the NFLPA to make these long awaited and much deserved improvements when negotiations resume," NFL Alumni spokesman Jim Morris noted in a statement Saturday night.

Nolan Harrison, who is the NFLPA’s senior director of former players, told last week that his association was best equipped to serve as the voice for retired players in labor talks. He also stressed the NFLPA’s executive committee meshes current and retired players as opposed to the alumni-only standing of Martin’s group.

There are also philosophical differences between the NFL Alumni and NFLPA. Martin is unhappy that the NFLPA didn’t agree to extend labor negotiations with the NFL beyond March 11, which led to the current player lockout. The league proposed $84 million in aid to retired players over the next two seasons in its final CBA offer to the NFLPA. That figure would provide immediate financial relief for those in physical or financial need.

Harrison, though, said the NFL offer was insufficient because the league didn’t make financial guarantees about retired player aid through the entire length of the CBA being negotiated. The NFLPA also balked at workman’s compensation limitations that the NFL wanted in a new labor agreement.

"Although (the sum) is not where we want it to be, it was a first start," said Martin, who addressed NFL owners about improved benefits Tuesday at the league meetings in New Orleans. "If the (negotiating) process had been allowed to continue, perhaps we would have gained those improvements in pension benefits."

A third group of retired players unaffiliated with the NFL or NFLPA met Friday in Las Vegas. Sponsored by ex-NFL player Dave Pear, the Independent Football Veterans Conference offered seminars designed to help retirees with medical and legal issues.

According to the NFL Alumni Association’s website, 836 retired players receive annual NFL disability funds. Hundreds of others receive some form of financial medical support but the payments aren’t enough to prevent some players from living in poverty. Most of those players were in the league before the more retiree-friendly CBA was enacted in 1993.

"There are some really sad stories out there," said Pear, who is streaming the conference on his website. "We want to help those pre-1993 (retirees) get what they deserve and was promised to them, especially players who cannot help themselves. There are so many of them."