Retirees, union hope deal mends rift

Updated: June 5, 2009, 5:31 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Wearing his gold Hall of Fame jacket and a look of satisfaction, Herb Adderley stood side-by-side with the new head of the NFL players' union. Their joint appearance marked a huge first step in a healing process between current players and retirees.

"I'm elated and I'm happy," said Adderley, who turns 70 next week. "And, in fact, this is better than running a touchdown back in the Super Bowl."

Some might beg to differ -- and, by the way, Adderley did return an interception 60 yards for a touchdown for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II -- but this week's $26.25 million settlement between the NFL Players Association and the retired players solves a long-simmering marketing rift that once appeared headed to the Supreme Court.

"Mr. Adderley stands here as a representative in what I hope is a new step to reaffirm that we represent the players of the National Football League -- those who used to play, those who play," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said at Friday's news conference. "From this day forward, one of the things we will be working on is to remove the word 'retired' from any group of people who play this game. We will be one team. We will have one locker room. We will speak with one voice."

Adderley filed a lawsuit in 2007 on behalf of 2,056 retired players who contended the union failed to actively pursue marketing deals on their behalf with video games, trading cards and others sports products. A federal jury in San Francisco awarded the former players $28.1 million in November, but the NFLPA appealed and threatened to take the case to the nation's highest court if necessary.

The union's reversal is indicative of a new tone that has been set under Smith, who was elected in March to succeed Gene Upshaw, who died in August. Many retirees felt disenfranchised by the union when Upshaw was in charge.

"I know that we have some healing to do," Smith said, rapping the podium for emphasis. "I know that there are some things from the past that need to be done better. From today, we will make that step. We will lead. We will move forward."

The settlement only starts to solve the union's disagreements with the retirees, many of whom are upset over the disability and pension benefits they receive from the NFLPA. Some voiced their frustration at a meeting last week in Las Vegas, and Smith said he is ready to tackle those issues, but he gave no timetable.

"One certainty is that everyone who plays this game today will one day be a former player," Smith said. "If we can sit together and come together as men, as brothers, to address those issues, I think it makes it much more likely that we'll get the answer right."

Bob Grant, who represents a group of disgruntled retired players, was encouraged by news of the settlement, believing it has the potential to open the door for improved relations with the union. Grant, who defended Smith to retired players during the meetings in Las Vegas, credited the executive director for being "a man of his word" by reaching the settlement.

Several current and former players who attended Friday's announcement also attributed the breakthrough to Smith, who needs as much unity as possible heading into the next round of labor negotiations with the NFL.

"Sometimes you just need somebody new," Washington Redskins receiver James Thrash said. "They have new ideas. That was the big thing with D when he came in, that was his whole approach. Everything was fresh, everything was new, and that just opened a lot of guys' eyes."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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