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Union sets up group to help former players PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 9:24 PM

Associated Press

 

The NFL players union has set up an organization to aid former players, establishing it out of a $22 million fund from the collective bargaining agreement with the league.

Called The Trust, the group will assist players in areas such as brain and body evaluations; health and nutrition; physical fitness; career transition; and financial education. All of these services will be provided with no out-of-pocket costs to the player.

Any player who had two or more accredited seasons in the league is eligible. Program managers to assist each player, working to create a specific plan to achieve his goals, will be available.

“I think it is going to change lives,” Bahati Van Pelt, executive director of The Trust, said Wednesday. “I know that is a grand statement. I have seen the good and the bad and what happens when players transition out of football. I have seen families and players who have struggled or who have been successful. I know what we have available is what players need.”

The group will use social media to get out the word to former players, and has four program managers who, in essence, will be their case managers. Two of them are former players, Hannibal Navies and Zamir Cobb. Each retiree who reaches out to the organization will be assigned a program manager to find out his needs and information and walk him step by step through the process of getting help.

There’s even a person assigned to handling travel arrangements, if needed, for the retirees to get health care.

Van Pelt said the phones lines already have been active.

“We are not going to sit here and wait for the phones to ring,” he explained. “We will find ways to engage.”

Van Pelt wants the message to be clear that not all players retire from pro football and then can’t find their way in the world.

“There is a misconception all players struggle once they leave the game,” he added. “We want to make sure we tell the stories of players who transitioned successfully, or those who did have trouble transitioning and then turned that into a successful career.”

The Trust also has partnered with the University of North Carolina, Tulane University and the Cleveland Clinic to provide brain and body assessments for former players. A player’s spouse can accompany him for free.

“One of the things we have charged ourselves with is being flexible,” Van Pelt said. “If there is a need we’re not meeting, we can address that. If we are not doing something correctly, we make sure we fix it.”

The NFL also has programs for retired players under the guidance of former Pro Bowl defensive back Troy Vincent.

“This initiative supplements the many programs we have developed in recent years to serve the needs of retired players,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “Supporting our former players is a shared responsibility that we continue to emphasize as a league priority.”

The Trust provides an additional suite of services for former players, another option for them to turn to. And it creates a specialized set of services for retirees that has funding guaranteed through 2021, with a 5 percent escalation per year.

Money is designated for such funding before the salary cap is determined each season.

Van Pelt has worked with Vincent and also worked for the Jaguars and Falcons.

Dolphins case puts GM, coaching jobs in jeopardy

DAVIE, Fla.— Last month, Richie Incognito said severe repercussions would be warranted if the Miami Dolphins kept allowing sacks at such an alarming rate.

“Everybody should be fired,” he said.

Nobody in Miami is talking about sacks anymore. Firings remain a distinct possibility for very different reasons.

The Dolphins harassment scandal is threatening the season and job security, leaving the future of coach Joe Philbin, his assistants and general manager Jeff Ireland in doubt.

Tackle Jonathan Martin alleges he was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito, who has been suspended. While Martin is scheduled to meet with an NFL special investigator late this week, Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross has formed two committees to study the team’s locker room culture.

“Changes need to be made,” Ross announced at a news conference Monday. “We need to examine everything internally.”

Someone in the organization will likely be designated the primary culprit for the scandal, and Ireland’s the early front-runner. Ross said he had “total, utmost confidence” in Philbin but barely mentioned Ireland, who didn’t attend the news conference.

Philbin, who is 11-14 since joining the Dolphins last year, said he appreciated Ross’ vote of confidence.

“The only way you succeed if there is support within the whole entire organization,” the coach said. “It starts at the top.”

The findings of the NFL investigator could sway Ross’ opinion, as could the final seven games and dwindling fan support. The Dolphins (4-5) have slumped after a 3-0 start, and on Monday they became the first team to lose to Tampa Bay. Another half-empty stadium is likely Sunday when they play host to San Diego.

To the dismay of many Miami fans, Ireland is in his sixth year with the Dolphins even though they haven’t had a winning season since 2009; Ross’ patience with his beleaguered general manager might finally be exhausted. Among the many questionable personnel decisions in recent years, pairing Martin and Incognito on the left side of the line appears to have been the most disastrous.

“It is not just about Richie Incognito, it’s just not about Jonathan Martin, it is about the organization as a whole, from the top down,” former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson said on ESPN, where he is now an analyst. “In a locker room setting, everybody has to coexist. Or you at least have to know what personalities go together. Obviously, the Dolphins didn’t do their homework.”

Former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson echoed that opinion on Fox and questioned Ireland’s decision to take Martin in the second round of the 2012 draft.

The scandal has rekindled fan ire toward Ireland, a Bill Parcells protege. Critics are quick to recall Ireland’s role in the clunky courtship of coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011 and Ireland asking Dez Bryant in a 2010 pre-draft interview if the receiver’s mother was ever a prostitute.

There also have been a multitude of questionable personnel moves, which last offseason ranged from letting Reggie Bush go to keeping Incognito.

Philbin had input in some of those decisions and was responsible for overseeing the locker room environment now under scrutiny.

“People are asking me how Joe Philbin could not know what was going on in that locker room,” former NFL coach Tony Dungy said in his analyst role on NBC. “Well, as a head coach, you don’t know everything. My job was to set the atmosphere up, and I counted on my leaders. So, if I said no hazing in the locker room, then it was up to Derrick Brooks, Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne and those types of guys to control it.”

Dungy is on a committee assigned by Ross to review the Dolphins’ code of conduct. The committee also includes Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and former NFL players Dan Marino, Jason Taylor and Curtis Martin.

NFL attendance issues not just for also-rans

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin isn’t much on public gratitude. Still, the perpetually focused Pittsburgh Steelers coach went out of his way to thank the fans who showed up at Heinz Field to watch his team drum the Buffalo Bills 23-10 on Sunday for its third win of the season.

“It’s not something we take for granted,” Tomlin said.

Good idea.

A crowd of 60,406 turned out to watch two teams with a combined 5-12 record play on a cold, blustery day more suited for late-December than three weeks before Thanksgiving. The 5,000 or so who bought their tickets but chose to not make it through the turnstiles were conspicuous, their absence marked by pockets of open gold seats in certain portions of the stadium tucked tight against the Allegheny River.

Welcome to life in the new NFL, where “sellouts” are the norm but full houses are becoming the exception, and not just in places like woeful Jacksonville.

Blame it on mediocre teams. Blame it on rising ticket prices. Blame in on the comfort of your couch, where it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars to sit, and the cold beer in your fridge, the one that doesn’t cost $8 a bottle.

The Steelers (3-6), who have six Vince Lombardi Trophies in the lobby at team headquarters, are in danger of posting their lowest average attendance since 2003, when they limped to a 6-10 record and missed the playoffs.

The franchise is on a similar trajectory this fall in a place that can be tough — by NFL standards — to completely fill even when times are good. Pittsburgh is averaging 61,465 through four home dates, the lowest over the same span since Heinz Field opened in 2001.

It’s a trend hitting the league regardless of market size or on-field success. In 2008, only five teams played to stadiums less than 95 percent full. That number has doubled this season at a time when TV ratings are at their best since 2006.

The Washington Redskins have one of the NFL’s rising stars in quarterback Robert Griffin III and are playing to just 88.9 percent capacity this season. The surprising New York Jets have the nation’s largest metropolitan area to pull from and only 93.3 of those with tickets are showing up.

Then again, New York can be a tough market.

Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery was on the 2007 Jets that limped to a 4-12 record. As the season wore on and the losses mounted, things got weird.

It can lead, in some instances, to the unnerving realization that players can’t simply rely on the juice — or the vitriol — from the crowd to get amped up.

The NFL amended its TV blackout rule last year, allowing teams to sell only 85 percent of its prime tickets to meet the threshold necessary to have home games broadcast locally. While the decision has done nothing but goose TV ratings even further, getting folks into the stadium on a regular basis in some cities remains a tough task.

Oakland and Jacksonville swath their stadiums in massive drapes that cover entire sections. It reduces capacity but hasn’t exactly increased demand. While the atmosphere has improved with the Raiders, only 81.4 percent of ticket holders make it to their seats. More than 10 percent of those with tickets in Jacksonville don’t bother to get an eyeful of one of the league’s worst teams.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer is prepping the Cardinals for an “interesting atmosphere” when they visit the Jaguars (1-8) on Sunday, where tickets are going for as low as $8 on StubHub. To be honest, he’s going to miss the opportunity to quiet a hostile environment, mostly because there likely won’t be one.

Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to stress the in-game fan experience remains important to the league. It also remains important to the bottom lines of owners, if only to fatten their wallets.

When Personal Seat Licensing came into vogue, it created a new revenue stream by making fans plunk down thousands just for the right to buy tickets. It priced some longtime season ticket holders out of the market and as the U.S. economy sputtered, so did interest in making a significant financial commitment to get in the door when the living room can be just as inviting and significantly cheaper.

And owners continue to press for new stadiums even as evidence mounts that less might be more. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones has turned AT&T Stadium into a virtual ATM since it opened in 2009. Dallas averages more than 86,000 fans a game, well over 100 percent capacity, even as the team continues to hover around .500.

The Falcons have barely been in the Georgia Dome two decades and already they’ve struck a deal on a new $1 billion building that will be ready by 2017.

The Steelers aren’t greedy enough to ask for new digs but they are planning to add an additional 3,000 seats at Heinz Field, even though they’ve never averaged more than 63,458 per game since its debut in 2001. All that’s left is deciding who picks up most of the tab. The issue remains in the Pittsburgh courts, though whenever the expansion is complete, the same factors that fans face every Sunday will remain in place.

Former Raiders TE Todd Christensen dies at 57

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Raiders tight end and 5-time Pro Bowler Todd Christensen died from complications during liver transplant surgery. He was 57.

Christensen’s son, Toby Christensen, announced his father passed away Wednesday morning at Intermountain Medical Center near his home in Alpine, Utah.

After a stellar career at running back for BYU from 1974-77, Christensen was a second-round pick for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1978 NFL draft.

He was waived by the Cowboys after training camp but landed the next year with the Raiders, where he played for 10 seasons at tight end and won two Super Bowls. After his retirement in 1988, he went on to a career in broadcasting and most recently worked for CBS Sports Network.

Christensen was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Eugene, Ore., as a child.

 

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