Nadel column on the Ditka-Duerson squabble

Tank Johnson and the Chicago Bears could provide badly
needed knee and hip replacements for broken-down
former NFL players.

Pacman Jones and the Tennessee Titans could fund a
lifetime of medications and treatments for dozens of
depressed, demented, disabled and diseased ex-pros.

And the misbehaving Cincinnati Bengals, well, they
pretty much could solve every problem facing every
retired player.

That’s right: Let the miscreants, felons, jerks and
incorrigibles - the guys suspended by the NFL’s new
sheriff in town, commissioner Roger Goodell - pay for
the medical care needed by those who helped make
today’s players and owners filthy rich.

That’s not a complete solution to problems that have
come to light in recent days, but this suggestion
certainly is more worthwhile than Mike Ditka waging
verbal war with Dave Duerson and the union head
threatening to break a critic’s neck.

Former players, many of whom are hurting physically,
emotionally and financially from years spent banging
heads in the line of NFL duty, want more support,
better health benefits and more respect. And they want
to  apply for help without wading through oceans of
bureaucracy and climbing mountains of paperwork.

The NFL Players Association, headed by Gene Upshaw and
represented by trustees such as Duerson, contends it
is doing everything possible to take care of needy
retired players.
 
Unable to resist a spot on a soapbox, politicians also
are getting involved, with a House Judiciary
subcommittee hearing scheduled for June 26.

They’ll have to fight for soapbox space with Ditka. He
is championing the retirees’ cause and his work seems
noble, though everybody doesn’t see it that way.

Duerson, who played for Da Bears when Iron Mike was Da
Coach, says hypocrite Ditka sure didn’t care about
injured players during his coaching days.

If Duerson is right - and I have no reason to doubt
him - it means Ditka was guilty of little more than
being a typical coach. Every coach in every sport at
every level plays the healthy guys and pressures the
unhealthy guys to get healthy lest they lose their
jobs. Ditka’s out of that environment now, so his
perspective likely has changed.

Duerson and Ditka went on ESPN Radio the other day and
shouted each other down. Entertaining stuff, sure, but
it does nothing for the ex-players who literally gave
their lives to the league and now, in their hour of
need, get too little in return.

Ex-players and their families tell sad tales of
twisted limbs, broken backs, emotional distress and
financial need, and it’s impossible not to feel
sympathetic. Yes, they knew they were in a violent
profession, but it’s doubtful they expected a future
of wheelchairs and  memory loss.

They need help, and there obviously is plenty of money
to go around.

Today’s NFL is the richest league in the history of
American sports. Thanks to television rights, revenue
sharing and other factors, owners are loaded.
Meanwhile, how many houses, cars and medallions the
size of Rhode Island can the players buy?

The retirees, who sacrificed so much to make the NFL
what it has become, deserve respect and care. Pushed
by their union, today’s jocks need to give more, but
it shouldn’t stop there. The owners should give more,
too.

Here’s where my suggestion comes in - not as a
replacement for the current system but as an
additional source of money specifically earmarked for
the cause.

In his effort to clean up Dodge, Sheriff Goodell is on
a suspension spree. So what happens to the money the
suspended convicts and louses are forfeiting?

An NFL spokesman told me Thursday the cash simply
stays in the owners’ pockets.

As if they’re not getting rich enough from personal
seat licenses in taxpayer-financed stadiums, the
owners actually get richer when their players
misbehave enough to get suspended.

Didn’t Sheriff Goodell say he wanted teams to think
twice before drafting, signing or trading for bad
actors? Didn’t he say such teams deserve punishment
when those players act badly?

Well, my solution would put suspended players’
salaries directly into a fund for needy retirees - not
into another yacht for the owners.

Heck, at the rate NFL hoodlums are breaking laws, the
ex-players soon would be soaking their aching bodies
in solid-gold Jacuzzis!

And for God’s sake, make it easier for these poor
souls and their families to apply for benefits. Many
of them can’t even walk, so why should they have to
jump through hoops to get money for X-rays and
prescriptions?

Common sense and compassion might not be as sexy as a
Ditka-Duerson feud or Upshaw threatening physical
violence against former All-Pro Joe DeLamielleure.

But rational thinking and kindness might actually get
something done to fix the problem.

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Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago
sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his
blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.