In a perfect world, every NFL player makes a great living, saves enough for retirement, has a long and healthy career, then can retire knowing that they have the financial security to get through life outside of football. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with football players. Whether bitten by the injury bug before they can save up or, losing money through financial irresponsibility, or just plain bad luck, life after football can be rough.
Fortunately for former players, the NFL Players Association negotiated in a safeguard for this through a benefits program. Unfortunately for players who played before 1993, there is a catch and recent retirees also have cause for concern.
Do NFL players get retirement checks?
NFL players do get retirement benefits, but compared to the two other major sports in America, the NFL’s pension plan is lagging far behind even for players who are eligible for the full benefits package.
The league and the players agreed to what eventually became the current system in 1993, setting aside more than $1 billion for a severance package, a 401k retirement plan, and a doubling of the meager pensions from before.
This was a good step-off point for further improvement, but it came with a major flaw in that it did not retroactively reward players who retired before 1993 the same types of benefits.
Many players, including NFL legend Jim Brown, have since fought for a system that better rewards the players, and while things are improving there is still a long way to go until the NFL catches up with the rest of the American sports leagues.
Fighting for more pay
Several retired players, including brown, began pushing an issue called FAIR, or Fairness for Athletes in Retirement, to get better benefits for the stars of yesteryear. FAIR is led by president Lisa Marie Riggins, an outspoken critic of the league’s current treatment of its older retirees.
“Despite paving the way for the NFL to become what it is today, players of Jim Brown’s era have been left behind with the lowest pension package among all other major U.S. sports leagues,” Riggins said (per Market Watch).
“These players have never had league health insurance and retirement income is often consumed by medical expenses. With everything they have contributed to the league and the game, they deserve the security of a pension they can survive on.”
Players who retired before 1993 receive an average of $3,000 for every year played, about a third of what players who retired since the agreement made. Although a 2011 decision tacked on an extra $108 to $124 per season played, this still is not enough according to FAIR, and they look no further than the NBA and MLB for evidence of this.
How bad is it?
A 10-year veteran who retired from the MLB after 1980 receives a pension of around $200,000 at the age of 62. Over in the NBA, a player who played that same amount of time before retiring after 1965 receives $215,000 a year at 62.
An NFL player, who will typically retire earlier on due to the toll the sport takes on one’s body, will receive a pension of around $43,000 a year if they are lucky enough to have played 10 years in the NFL.
Even for more recent retirees, this current system puts the retired NFL players who risked their bodies for these teams well-behind the other sports. All it would take to help appease the situation would be for teams, current players, and the league to be willing to sacrifice a little bit of money to help the estimated 3,800 retired players who live a better life in their later years.