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Ditka giving portion of donations to Gridiron Greats fund

12/11/2007 - NFL

MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Ditka said Tuesday he would dissolve his
Hall of Fame Assistance Trust Fund in the wake of a report that the
charity had given only a small amount of money to needy former NFL
players.

USA Today reported last week that Ditka's fund had collected
$1.3 million since it was formed in 2004, but netted only about
$315,000 after expenses and distributed just $57,000 to former
players.

Ditka disputed part of the report, saying the trust has actually
given away $159,000.

"This is not about me, and I didn't ask for this, really,"
Ditka said. "I've become a sitting duck for a lot of people who
really don't understand what the problems are."

He said the fund's balance of more than $600,000 would be
divided equally between Misericordia, a residential facility for
developmentally disabled youth, and Gridiron Greats Assistance
Fund, another fund that helps former professional football players
in need.

Gridiron Greats hosted Tuesday's news conference, which included
several former Vikings stars and some current NFL players. Jennifer
Smith, a spokeswoman, said the infusion from Ditka's fund would
"make a major impact" on her group's efforts.

Ditka, who donated an additional $25,000 of his own money to the
fund, is among retired players who have feuded with the NFL Players
Association over what they say is the union's refusal to award
disability benefits to former players.

"I used to support the union because they were trying to take
care of a majority of the players," Ditka said. "That has ceased
to be the case. Until you take care of all the players, you're
taking care of none of the players."

Spokesman Carl Francis said the system for awarding disability
benefits "has never been a perfect system" and the union is
working on improving it. He said the union is proud of new $17
million effort launched with the league and others to provide free
or low-cost joint replacement surgeries to some former players.

Several people shared stories of former players who ended up
physically disabled and often homeless, and said they weren't able
to get the help they needed.

Several former Vikings joined Ditka, including Chuck Foreman,
Jim Marshall, Ed Marinaro and Paul Krause. Also on hand were
current pros Kyle Turley of the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings
center Matt Birk, who hosted the news conference at his downtown
restaurant.

Turley has been the most outspoken active player on the issue,
and has pledged a single-game paycheck of $25,000 to the fund,
which Birk matched. Two other Chiefs, Larry Johnson and
Tony Gonzalez, the Houston Texans' Ephraim Salaam and the New York Giants'
Kawika Mitchell also plan to donate to the fund, the organizers announced.

"As players today, we definitely stand on the shoulders of
those that have come before us," Birk said. "We're reaping a lot
of the benefits of the price that was paid by those players. We
can't forget that."

Ditka is a studio football analyst at ESPN.