During his Hall of Fame media availability, former San Francisco 49ers and new inductee, owner Eddie DeBartolo kindly asked to not answer my follow up question about his statement regarding player protection because he said it was going to be a major point of his acceptance speech.
DeBartolo, as expected, began his speech about his family, but he wasn’t just talking about his immediate family. He was also talking about his NFL family which is what makes him so special to so many people. He knew the likes of his equipment managers and secretaries so well, that he knew the names of their spouses and their children, even to this day.
DeBartolo was a pioneer in starting a program to help his players get their college degrees during the off season, facilitating their success after their football career had ended. That was the case if the player retired from the game for any reason, including injury.
Jeff Fuller, who was a safety for the 49ers from 1984 - 1989, lost use of his arm after a spinal injury during a game. DeBartolo made sure he and his family were taken care of for the rest of their lives. He spoke at length about taking care of retired players:
Frankly, I think we could use a more of that sense of family in the NFL today. I think we could use a little bit more of that sense of duty to one another and that sense of responsibility for one another. I know that’s what my good friend the commissioner and the players union desperately want and are trying to do today. Make no mistake, history has it’s eye’s on all of us right now. It’s about the respect and gratitude we feel for these athletes who have given their all to this game. we’ve got to do all we can to look after one another and take care of one another, not just when the uniform is on, but when the uniform comes off too.
It’s this kind of attention to people that DeBartolo is asking for from the NFL. It’s an issue that has come to light more recently, former players with little or no pension and a lack of decent health insurance for bodies wracked with debilitating injuries from a career played in a violent game. Hopefully DeBartolo can pioneer another assisstive program for players who have left the game, the league’s extended family.