Tuesday morning, a select group of members of the NFL Hall of Fame dropped a bomb on the sports world when they announced that some of them will be boycotting next year's enshrinement ceremony unless they receive health care and annual salaries.
On first thought, it’s sad that the Hall of Famers have to even be in this situation.
And on second thought, it seems like this is something that the league could easily accommodate.
But nothing is easy when it comes to the NFL and its past and current players.
"We, the undersigned Pro Football Hall of Famers, were integral to the creation of the modern NFL, which in 2017 generated $14 billion in revenue. But when the league enshrined us as the greatest ever to play America’s most popular sport, they gave us a gold jacket, a bust and a ring — and that was it,” reads the letter that was sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and the president and executive director of the Hall of Fame, C. David Baker.
“As a group we are struggling with severe health and financial problems. To build this game, we sacrificed our bodies. In many cases, and despite the fact that we were led to believe otherwise, we sacrificed our minds.
We believe we deserve more. We write to demand two things: Health insurance and an annual salary for all Hall of Famers that includes a share of league revenue."
The players are estimating that the price tag of health coverage for all living Hall of Famers would cost the NFL less than $4 million per season, which is chump change to the league. The billions of dollars the league makes is also why the former players feel they should also be on payroll due to the fact that, “paying Hall of Famers an annual salary works out to about 40 cents for every $100 in annual revenue, a figure that will increase dramatically in the near future with legalized gambling."
In theory, it all makes sense until you realize that NFL players don’t have a great resume when it comes to taking a stand against the league. Throughout the history of the NFL, there have been multiple lockouts and strikes. And while the players have gotten their demands met a few times, the majority of the time they’ve been on the losing end of “negotiations.”
I mean, it’s 2018 and they still don’t even have guaranteed contracts.
Two of the most well-known work stoppages happened in the 1980s, as the 1982 NFL strike that focused on wage scaled ended with the players revolting against their own union.
The 1987 strike is arguably the most famous one to ever take place in the NFL, and it was made into an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary called “Year of the Scab,” as teams played with an assortment of replacement players and well-known veterans that were secure enough in their finances to cross the picket line.
It’s like déjà vu all over again, because hours after the letter was released you could already see the divide among former players taking place.
“So the players that played beside HOFers, often times doing the dirty work so they can shine, somehow didn’t sacrifice the same blood, sweat, and tears and don’t deserve the same benefits? Weak!,” tweeted three-time Super Bowl champion Mark Schlereth, and current NFL commentator on Fox Sports.
But the most damning piece of evidence might have come from Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, whose name was placed on the initial letter to the league. And according to Warner, his name should have never been on the letter, as he doesn’t agree that a boycott is the right move.
“It has come to my attention today that a letter was sent out addressing HOFers benefits and profit sharing,” Warner wrote in a statement he released on social media.
“While I appreciate the efforts of those spearheading this movement and I fully support the fight to gain better benefits for past, current and future NFL players, I was not made aware of this letter and my name was mistakenly attached to it. I understand what ALL retired NFL players have given to advance our league and I believe it is extremely important to fight for lifetime benefits for each and every one of them. I feel we can make a great case to the NFL for their support of these efforts, however, I do not believe boycotting is the means to the end in this instance.”
Of the 180 living members of the NFL Hall of Fame, it appears that all of them were not consulted or notified about the letter before it was released, unfairly putting them in the middle of this.
And Shannon Sharpe is one of them.
“And I know people are gonna say, ‘well what about the guys that are not Hall of Famers?’ Well, you gotta start somewhere,” said the Hall of Fame tight end on Tuesday morning’s edition of Undisputed on FS1.
“The only asset that the Hall of Famers have is their presence,” he explained. “When you turn on (the TV), yeah it’s an induction but you look up there on the stage and you see all those gold jackets and all the Hall of Famers. So, if you see a whole bunch of empty chairs, that’s really probably the only thing that’s gonna get the Hall of Fame and the NFL’s attention.”
Intent and execution can be tricky things, because I believe the group of Hall of Famers had good intentions with this letter. They wanted to force the league’s hand.
However, good intentions become null and void if they are followed by bad execution, and that seems like it could be the case here. Because if all the living members of the Hall of Fame weren’t at least notified that this was coming, then it’s impossible to believe that they will now all be on the same page.
We saw this same kind of thing take place last year when Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid broke away from the Player’s Coalition that was born out of the need to be a unified voice when promoting social justice causes.
Throughout the history of the NFL, we have multiple examples of players failing to come together for causes that will benefit them, and the future of the game.
And I’m not sure this will be any different.
But at this moment, I hope the NFL will do the right thing, for once, before this gets to a place where the men who made the NFL what it is today, have to do something that they’ve never been good at.
Being a united force.