Some of the most iconic names in NFL history have vowed to boycott the sport’s annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony until they are given health insurance and an annual salary.
In a letter sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and Pro Football Hall of Fame’s David Baker, players said they would stay away from the ceremony unless their demands were met.
The letter was sent by former Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson, the chairman of the newly created Hall of Fame Board.
It was signed by nearly two dozen members that included legendary former players such as Joe Namath, Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Kurt Warner and Lawrence Taylor.
The letter detailed the health challenges faced by many former players in the NFL, which has been battling a concussion crisis that forced the league to make a $1 billion (857 million euro) settlement in 2015.
“We, the undersigned Pro Football Hall of Famers, were integral to the creation of the modern NFL, which in 2017 generated $14 billion in revenue,” the letter states.
“But when the league enshrined us as the greatest ever to play America’s most popular sport, they gave us a gold jacket, a bust and a ring — and that was it.
“People know us from our highlight reels. They see us honoured and mythologized before games and at halftime, and it would be reasonable if they thought life was good for us. But on balance, it’s not.
“As a group we are struggling with severe health and financial problems. To build this game, we sacrificed our bodies. In many cases, and despite the fact that we were led to believe otherwise, we sacrificed our minds.
“We believe we deserve more. We write to demand two things: Health insurance and annual salary for all Hall of Famers that includes a share of league revenue.”
The letter said many Hall of Fame players “can’t walk and many can’t sleep at night.”
“More than a few of us don’t even know who or where we are. Our long careers left us especially vulnerable to the dangers of this violent sport, especially those intentionally hidden from us,” it said.
The letter said the total cost to provide health insurance to every member of the Hall of Fame would be less $4 million, less than the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl television ad.
“The time has come for us to be treated as part of a game we’ve given so much to,” the letter states.
“Until our demands are met, the Hall of Famers will not attend the annual induction ceremony in Canton.
“It’s well-known that the NFL is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020, and while we are proud of our role in building this league, we don’t believe 100 years of player exploitation is something to celebrate.
“As we approach this momentous date, we challenge the NFL to honor its past by helping retired players instead of exploiting their images for marketing purposes.”
The Hall of Fame ceremony is the culmination of a week-long series of events held each year in August in the lead-in to the new season.
Around four to eight new members are inducted each year, chosen by a 48-member committee made up mostly of members of the media.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Marisa Kennedy)