Widows score win in pension battle

BY foxsports • July 16, 2012

Sylvia Mackey’s months-long struggle to close a loophole that excluded 330 widows of NFL veteran players — including herself — from increased pension payments concluded Monday as the NFL and the NFL and NFL Players Association have reached an agreement to extend the collective bargaining agreement’s new Legacy benefits.

As part of the agreement, which both sides announced jointly, so-called legacy benefits will now be paid to the widows and other survivors of eligible pre-1993 players, the NFL and NFLPA said.

"I am ecstatic," Mackey told FOXSports.com. "I'm speechless. It’s been a year. A year too long, but you can’t un-spill the milk."

Widows of players who played in the NFL before 1993 and died before CBA’s ratification last August were exempted from the new $620 million legacy fund. (Widows are typically eligible for any pension increases.) The oversight cost about $14 million to rectify, but the NFL and NFLPA had been at odds on how to pay for it.

The NFL owners agreed in May to fund their 51 percent, although the NFLPA soon took issue with the fact the NFL would use fine money as part of its share. NFLPA officials also wanted a fuller accounting of fine money before moving forward with an agreement to fund the union’s 49% share of the benefits.

"The legacy fund is the first time in history that former player benefits have come from outside the salary cap,” Nolan Harrison, senior director of former player services for the NFLPA, told the group’s membership in a memo obtained in May by FOXSports.com. “Our entire player community fought for and won this landmark advancement. This new issue of taking care of former player families is about making sure we progress and hold management accountable for their commitment to those families."

The news release didn’t spell out the terms of the agreement. Messages left with the NFL and NFLPA by FOXSports.com were not immediately returned.

Monday’s agreement comes too late for at least one of the widows. Susan Copeland — whose husband, Jim Copeland, played eight seasons as an offensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns — passed away in May.

“That’s one person I wish who had been here to see this agreement,” said Mackey, whose husband, Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, died last July. “She was very upset and hurt.”

Under the legacy fund, former players who played before the 1993 season (or their widows) would get at least $108 more per month for each credited season. That class of players would also be entitled to at least $600 per month in pension payments.

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