Stover revives dialogue with retirees

The Baltimore Sun

Matt Stover achieved a temporary truce this week with the leader of the Baltimore Colts alumni group after an NFL Players Association memo threatened to exacerbate a conflict between retired players and the union.

Stover, the Ravens' kicker and player representative, met with Bruce Laird, president of Baltimore's NFL alumni chapter, on Wednesday to restore dialogue.

At the heart of the retired players' discontent is their belief they do not have a voice in union decisions, and their distrust of the efforts of Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA.

"We've always known the perception [of retired players] is that Gene is insensitive to their concerns," Stover said yesterday. "I've been a player rep for 16 years, and I don't believe that's true. One of the things I'm trying to do is change that perception."

Stover's approach with Laird, a former Colts safety, was to offer help in reestablishing communication with the union and among retired players.

"I told him the union can facilitate that communication," Stover said. "As long as [retired players] are making the NFLPA an adversary, then it's not going to work.

"We can set up a chat room for the alumni, an information Web site. We can begin to partnership with these guys more and more."

Laird seemed open to the idea.

"We agreed that I will work within the confines of the system to try to work this out," he said. "And I want to say again that we as retired players are grateful for what the active players have given us since 1993, when they [improved pension benefits]."

Laird wants representation at the NFLPA's annual convention in Hawaii each March with two retired players.

"My stance is, I want a full democratic election for two retired players to interact with the active player reps," he said.

At last month's NFLPA convention in Maui, active players passed a resolution introduced by Stover to invite two members of the retired players' steering committee to address the general session of the board of reps. Stover estimated they would be given 20 to 30 minutes to speak.

Laird is in disagreement about how the two retired players would be selected. Steering committee members are required to attend the retired players' convention each June, be nominated and then elected.

Laird also said he did not feel qualified for the two positions, effectively removing himself from consideration.

In March, the union passed a resolution that it can remove an officer of a retired players chapter for conduct detrimental to the union. It also said it could dissolve a chapter whose leaders had engaged in such conduct.

Last spring, the active players voted to designate $116 million toward pension increases for retired players, including a 25 percent hike for vested players who played before 1982.

Despite those raises, retired players continued to complain about Upshaw and the union. One retired player, Bernie Parrish, went so far as to sue the union's Players Inc. department for revenue he says was unfairly withheld.

"We, as player reps, were saying, 'What's the deal?'" Stover said. "We just got them $116 million. We understand they want to be whole, but that would take over $1 billion. It isn't going to happen.

"I want the retired players to understand that whatever we do, it's not going to be perfect."

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