The golden years. The age of our life when we relax from our many years of hard work, begin new hobbies, and drive everywhere with our turn signal on. We'll have to turn eventually, why wait to signal until the last minute? But sometimes the golden years aren't always so golden. If we don't work for a company with retirement benefits, haven't saved any ourselves, and are hoping to rely on the giant Ponzi scheme known as Social Security, our golden years could be spent greeting people as they come through the front doors of Wal Mart.
We look at professional athletes and envy their fame and financial wealth, yet it turns out they worry about being reduced to eating cat food just as much as the working stiff. At a recent fund raiser for retired players, Bears Hall of Famer Gale Sayers made it clear ex-players deserved a cut of the $9 billion pie just as much as the current players do. "Some players of today's game think that they made the game what it is today. I beg to differ," Sayers said. "The players who are playing today are standing on the shoulders of those who made the game what it is that played the game for peanuts." If by "peanuts" he means they earned around 4 to 5 times the salary of the average working man, he's right. Yet in fairness to Sayers, NFL players today earn an average of 20 times what the average working man makes. He went on to say, "If today's players cannot help these players, shame on you." Although he could have just as easily said "us" since he's included in "these players".
So should former NFL players be given a better pension? According to Mike "I'll give you everything a got for Ricky Williams" Ditka, the solution is easy. "If they want to fix the pension for former players, all they have to do is match what baseball does for their former players, they have the best pension in all of sports," said Ditka. Is that all they have to do? And all I have to do to climb Mt Everest is get to the base of the mountain and put one foot in front of the other until I get to the top.
Ex-NFL players aren't just sitting back and waiting to see what happens with the lockout. On March 28th four former players, led by Hall of Famer Carl Eller, joined the current players as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against the NFL. The fear being that if a year goes by without a new CBA, retired players will lose their benefits. But while that's technically possible, it seems highly unlikely. The PR debacle that would result from the suspension of benefits would be too much for the NFL that already has too many PR problems thanks to the lockout.
So what are they fighting to keep? Turns out, not a whole lot. A player is fully vested after three years playing and can begin drawing benefits when they turn 55. A player who played before 1982 will earn $250 a month for every year they played in the NFL. So if they had an average 4 year career, they can expect to earn $12,000 a year from their pension. A player who had a longer 10 year career played before 1982 can expect to earn $30,000 a year. Better then nothing right? Until you start to consider their incredibly high medical expenses. For many players, their pension doesn't even cover the cost of their medical insurance. Even if you played your entire career after 1998, the most you can expect is $470 a month for every year played. When inflation is taken into consideration, they're pension will be worth about the same as today's retired players.
The high paid star won't have to worry. They'll have earned tens of millions of dollars over their career, and if they invest wisely, they're set for life. But the average player who's career lasts only 3-4 years, after taxes and agent fees, will be lucky to clear one million. That may not even be enough to cover the medical expenses they'll have to pay for the damage they did to their bodies, not to mention the life long pain they'll have to endure. When looked at like that, maybe greeting people at Wal Mart isn't such a bad thing after all.
There will always be people who'll say they would gladly trade places with someone in the NFL, even those earning the league minimum. And it's not like they can't get another job once their NFL days are over. But people in third world countries could say the same thing about the average American. When you're earning only $1,000 a year, $46,000 a year seems like a fortune. I don't think anyone in those countries is feeling particularly bad about someone in America losing their non-dirt floored home that's ten times the size of theirs, or that the same person may not have adequate health insurance.
In the end, Mike Ditka probably summed it up best when he said, "You can't figure out a way to $9 billion? It's kind of goofy. The American public can't feel sorry for either side because they can't relate." Maybe, but I think most can relate to the fear our golden years may not be so golden.