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Friday, August 3, 2007
Mike Ditka skipping Hall of Fame induction ceremonies until NFL disability payments improve

Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Mike Ditka won't be in Canton, Ohio, for Saturday's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and won't attend another until the NFL and the players' union improve their treatment of disabled players.

"The system is flawed and when they fix the system I'll go back," the former Chicago Bears coach and player told The Associated Press on Friday.

Ditka said his beef isn't with the pension system, but with the scarcity of disability payments. League officials have said 317 players collect disability totaling about $20 million a year.

Ditka said he's proud to be a Hall of Famer and congratulates the new inductees, but prior commitments are keeping him away from the Hall of Fame event.

"I'm in the restaurant business. I'm busy," he said. "They don't need me anyway."

In June, a group of former players testified in Congress about their bouts with multiple surgeries, dementia and homelessness, all while trying to fight through the red tape of the National Football League and the NFL Players Association's disability system.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and players' union head Gene Upshaw met with nearly a dozen former players last month to discuss a new joint effort to look into disability pay and health care for retirees.