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NFL's forgotten men take, and earned, center stage

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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If you want to understand the raw emotions an army of debilitated former NFL players feel, emotions that are also figuring into -- and possibly stalling -- the current labor talks, please read what former San Francisco 49er George Visger has to say.

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Visger read this story about retiree benefits being a sticking point in the labor talks, and then sent me an email commenting on it. Speaking of both the NFLPA and NFL owners, Visger wrote: "Do you think they'll actually toss a few benefit crumbs to us crippled up ex-players? Maybe they can pay for my next 10th brain surgery [sic]."

Players like Visger have long contended they've been the forgotten men in football history. Some are bankrupt because of medical expenses. They have broken bodies. Their minds are failing in their 50s. They suffer from depression, sudden fits of rage and suicidal tendencies. They have been pushed out of the way, they feel, by both union and management. And they are angry.

As I first reported Friday night, how to pay for player benefits and retiree expenses has become a stumbling block in the current negotiations. Owners believe that lawyers for the NFLPA are refusing to pay for these expenses. And the NFLPA should be faulted here. Retired players need to be under its protective umbrella. The NFLPA shouldn't wait for ownership to take control of this issue. The union should be throwing itself at the feet of these players, who were the backbone of the sport. If it weren't for players like Visger and thousands like him, current players wouldn't be making the large amounts of cash they're arguing about now.

This has long been the rallying cry of former players who feel the current union and membership don't respect them.

A defensive tackle, Visger played two years for the 49ers in the 1980s and says his memory began fading in 1982 after a bruising tackle left him unconscious. Visger says he fell into a coma and at one point was given his last rites. Subsequently, Visger says among other medical issues, he's had a number of football-related brain surgeries.

Visger's email to me is stinging, honest and symbolic of the anger many former players feel. It's presented here unedited and without comment:

"In today's economy (I just lost my home, need to find a place for my wife and 3 kids by July 10, and have NO idea where we will go), no one has any empathy for Billionaires fighting Millionaires over scraps. As with any company (I own my own business), the players should be putting into a retirement fund, with owners also paying for benefits. We are talking a $9.5 Billion industry for less than 2,000 active players. Hard to believe they can't toss 1/2 of 1% percent ($47.5M) of that $9.5 B into a fund each year. They could split 50/50 or 60/40 dependent on the outcome of the CBA. All I need is a $1,000/mo for my 12 NFL caused surgeries and I could stay in my home. "Keep in mind revenues for the NFL are expected to reach to exceed $15 B in the next 10 years.

"Neither the NFL nor the NFLPA gives a damn about the players once you are done. You have dirt bags like De Smith and Rodger Goodell both knocking down 8 figure salaries, when neither had the balls to ever wear a jock strap. I turned to the NFLPA during the 81 season WHILE I was still playing. After my first brain surgery during the 81 season, the front office was treating me strange, so I approached the PA (players association) requesting help as I felt I was headed for a fall (Was that ever an understatement). The PA set me up with a firm that let my statues of limitations run out and it just got worse from there. "It's all about greed on both sides. The problem is, the players have no idea the impacts playing will have on their families lives. The owners know how damaging their industry is to their employees, just as big tobacco knew for years. "It's not worth any amount of money or rings. You can have my Orange Bowl and Super Bowl rings if I could get my life back."

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