NFLA director uses position to feed greed

BY Alex Marvez • October 19, 2011

There are valid reasons some retired NFL players don’t trust the groups that champion themselves as advocates for their pensions, benefits and medical needs.

George Martin just moved atop the list.

Since becoming the NFL Alumni’s executive director and president in 2009, Martin has publicly begged to become the lead spokesman for retirees. Martin, though, never told anyone he would be using that voice to shamelessly endorse a sponsor who is letting him drive around in a brand new vehicle while some ex-players struggle to make ends meet on pensions whose monthly value would barely pay for a tank of his gas.

In a public relations move that should cost Martin his job, the NFLA issued a news release Wednesday entitled “Giants Legend George Martin Considers Cadillac.” The lead sentence proclaims that Martin — who is far better off financially than many of his association’s members — is “giving a Cadillac Escalade purchase serious consideration.” It even includes photos of Martin posing with his gaudy loaner.

The release proceeds to tout that “the former New York Giants defensive end has been test-driving a Platinum-Edition Escalade ESV since last week when Cadillac sponsored the inaugural NFL Alumni Celebrity Golf Classic in Oradell, NJ, benefiting the NFL Alumni Foundation’s local youth initiatives.”

Beyond this offensive drivel, Martin himself is sending Twitter messages about his commutes.

“After a week of driving an automotive work of art it will be difficult to part with the Escalade,” Martin wrote Wednesday. “To buy or not to buy?”

How about to puke or not to puke?

Martin’s NFLA leadership was already enough to make retirees retch. With financial support from the NFL, Martin pulled a coup to change the NFL Alumni’s focus from charity events to advocacy for the league’s retirees.

The biography from the NFLA’s web site quotes Martin as saying he took the position “to tackle endemic problems and issues relating to both the health and quality of life of former players.”

Apparently, it’s a lot easier doing that from inside a spacious air-conditioned vehicle lent to Martin solely because of his NFLA position.

Martin has done plenty of good for others before, most notably walking across America to help raise $5 million for ailing 911 rescue workers. It’s also par for the course to thank a sponsor — within reason — who helps fund a charitable endeavor like the aforementioned golf tournament.

But not realizing the negative light that this shady media-relations ploy casts upon him and the NFLA is further proof that Martin is as overmatched in this job as some of the opponents who tried to block him during a 13-year Giants career.

Among his other major missteps, Martin tried and failed to interject himself as a relevant figure into labor negotiations last spring between the NFL and NFL Players Association. The NFLA’s financial ties to the NFL ruined his credibility with the NFLPA and those who believe a third party is best suited to speak on their behalf.

Martin also embarrassed himself with the handling of fallout from a March meeting with NFLPA executives. Martin initially said on Sirius XM NFL Radio that he was “pleased” the discussion took place. Shortly thereafter, Martin issued an internal memo ripping the NFLPA and claiming the session was “very defiant, accusatory, and outright disrespectful.”

Disrespectful — like motoring around in a gratis $65,000-plus vehicle after having pledged to NFLA members that “our organization is for real and that we are going to make a difference in their lives.”

There is no easy answer to address who is best heeled to speak on behalf of the NFL retirees with $1 billion over the next 10 years now earmarked for ex-players as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. While the NFLPA has tried to extend an olive branch, some ex-players will never forget when former executive director Gene Upshaw said “I don’t work for them.” The mistrust was furthered when a group of retirees filed a lawsuit after the NFLPA illegally allowed use of their images in John Madden football videogames. The plaintiffs were awarded $24 million after the NFLPA dropped an appeal of the verdict.

Other third-party groups have struggled to gain momentum. A lack of media exposure hurts. So does apathy from a large segment of retirees who are simply happy to receive whatever pension money is sent their way. Conversely, there are some ex-players who probably wouldn’t be satisfied financially even if the league offered them Peyton Manning-sized contracts.

But after seeing Martin abuse the power of his office by accepting a free ride, there are two questions that NFLA members should be asking:

How quickly can Martin ride off into the sunset?

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