The fringe benefits

Originally Published: January 28, 2005
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

The family of late Pittsburgh Steelers star Mike Webster, from ex-wife Pam to his two sons, Colin and Garrett, hopes that the story of the Hall of Famer's last years serves as a cautionary tale for football fans. Football, they say, is a tough way to make a living. The NFL, they insist, should take care of its own.

One subject each raised independently in interviews was that of medical insurance for former players.

"It needs to be addressed," Garrett Webster said. "The Websters are doing their best to bring it to the forefront."

When Mike Webster retired after the 1990 season, there was no provision for medical insurance for players no longer in the league. Today, a player vested with three years of duty in the NFL -- playing at least three games in a season gives a him credit for a full year -- is entitled to five years of medical coverage courtesy of the NFL.

"Actually, we like to say the players are really paying for it," said Mickey Yaris-Davis, the NFLPA's director of benefits.

The medical coverage was included for the first time in the 1993 collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union. In the two extensions since (1998 and 2002), the coverage has been expanded. With 18 months of COBRA medical coverage also available to players, that's a total of 6.5 years of post-career coverage.

"It's a great benefit. It's been increased to help the players get through the worst of the transition," said Yaris-Davis, who has been with the NFLPA for more than 26 years.

With regard to the pending Webster case, Yaris-Davis points out that in a claim for worker's compensation medical coverage is not a relevant part of the discussion.

"If the claim is that his condition was football-related, it's an issue of worker's compensation," Yaris-Davis said. "Our medical coverage is the best in major sports -- it follows a player well after his career."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Greg.Garber@espn3.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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