Commentary: The mental and physical struggles of pre-‘93 NFL players cannot be forgotten and ignored

Commentary: The mental and physical struggles of pre-‘93 NFL players cannot be forgotten and ignored
May 02
09:58 2019

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

The National Football League is always in the news. The Super Bowl was played just a few months ago and already a new season is about to begin. Sometimes it seems as if we are cheering for our team for the entire 12 months.

The League has done a masterful job of keeping football right in front of us. For example, ESPN has a show called NFL Live, which comes on every day. Cable packages include the NFL Network for our viewing pleasure. The marketing of the National Football League is never ending. Don’t look for it to stop anytime soon because it won’t.

Now, the NFL Draft recently concluded its programming. The buildup to it started weeks ago. The multi-day affair began Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is the home of country music and the Tennessee Titans. The number one selection in this year’s draft was Tyler Murray, a quarterback from Oklahoma. He was chosen by the Arizona Cardinals.

While America was watching the future of the NFL, many of its past players were suffering. Why? If a player retired before 1993 with 10 years of service at the NFL mandatory retirement age of 55, his pension benefits are roughly $43,560 per year. Now you would think these players would be receiving more, yet they are not. Many are struggling to make ends meet and to pay medical expenses.

In the eyes of many, the NFL stands for “not for long.” According to the NFL Players Association, the average career length is 3.3 years. Obviously, that’s not a long time. Many players leave early for the bright lights of professional football, only to end up in the dim lights of unemployment and poor health.

Recently, Sylvia Mackey wrote a poignant piece about her late husband, John Mackey, who had a stellar career with the Baltimore Colts. The article chronicled his financial and health issues. There are countless other players who are battling these same issues.

One organization called FAIR (Fairness for Athletes in Retirement) is standing up to the NFL. It is a non-profit organization led by Lisa Marie and John Riggins. If you recall, Riggins was a star running back for the Washington Redskins. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XVII.

Pre-93 players have paltry benefits compared to other retirees of major sports in the same time period. While the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) for pro football has improved, it has left players retiring before 1993 in less than a desirable position.

One of the glaring issues that Pre-93 players face is healthcare. The number of career-ending injuries suffered by football players is much greater than any other professional sport. We, the fans, have seen enough pictures of yesterday’s stars who can hardly walk and are overall in poor physical and mental condition. Football has a price and it is not good for many players.

Guaranteed money in players’ contracts is so important. In my opinion, professional football players play for today because tomorrow may never come, as injuries will take them down. John Riggins says, “The NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) has a fiduciary obligation to make changes, but it is more of a moral issue.” I agree. The problem is that you can’t make the NFL do what is right. Their conscience must be moved and right now, it’s not.

Let us be reminded that there could be no Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints without there first being a Lenny Moore of the Baltimore Colts. Watching Shannon Sharpe of the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens was fun, but first we watched John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts.

Now is the time for the NFL to do what is right for Pre-93 players. They, too, were professional football players and deserve the same rights and privileges as their peers in other professional sports. They cannot be left to wither and waste away because of neglect. The NFL can afford better pension packages for these veterans because the NFL is a billion-dollar business and growing each year.

National Football League, it’s 4th down. Don’t punt. Go for it and make this process fair and equitable for Pre-93 players.

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D.,  is a former tennis champsion at Atkins High School and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator and can be reached at

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