Former NFL Player: The Real Issues Are Health and Bankruptcy

Why would an owner want to pay employees the majority of the company's profits? Why focus on fattening players' pockets in their 20s, only to live a life broke and with health issues in their 30s and beyond?

The NFL lockout has turned into the typical battle for a bigger piece of the pie, when instead the two real crises that the owners and players unions should be addressing are health issues and bankruptcy.

A Harsh Reality

It's common knowledge that the major issue driving the current labor dispute is who gets the biggest slice of the pie. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, the players were getting approximately 50 percent of the overall revenue from an estimated $9 billion in revenues (though the owners have not actually shown the players audited financials).

As a player, I wanted as much of the revenue as possible, given the fact that I was playing a game that cuts your total life expectancy to 52 years old. This is the harsh reality of playing the most violent team sport on the planet.

But the real tragedy is the fact that over 80 percent of the players are bankrupt shortly after taking their last snap. As I witness this sad reality on a daily basis, I am left to question the players' union strategy. Shouldn’t they be negotiating to put measures in place to actually allow the players to keep the money they are fighting for in this labor dispute?

As a business owner, I don’t want to pay the majority of my revenue to my key employees. At the same time, I would reinvest in them by enforcing common-sense measures that would assist my young workforce in preserving their wealth. Unlike other industries, the players affect the identities of their teams, which makes image, character, and other intangibles vital.

By simply changing the way that young, unvested players — 4 years in the NFL or less — get paid, the league would dramatically decrease the number of players who end up in embarrassing and detrimental financial situations.

NFL players are paid over a four-month period, which causes obvious budgeting issues and never really affords these young professionals the opportunity to learn fiscal responsibility. You hear horror stories about bad financial advisors and agents stealing from athletes all the time. The fact of the matter is, the way players are paid adds more financial turmoil than the bad advisors or agents.

If you were to pay young, highly qualified executives in any industry their salaries over a four-month period, they would probably have trouble budgeting their money. Players should have no choice but to take their paychecks and bonuses over a 12-month period. They should also have the option to defer a portion of their compensation, given their short career spans and young retirement ages. The current system is financial suicide.

Play by the same rules as other companies in America.

As I enter my fifth year as a retired NFL player, I am faced with the unfortunate reality that my NFL healthcare coverage will be terminated in less than a year. While the majority of high-profile jobs in America offer their retirees robust healthcare packages and retirement plans, the National Football League does the opposite. The large majority of NFL players leave the game with life-lingering injuries and ailments.

This is certainly an issue that I would fight for as a players association, rather than an extra percentage point in revenue. In what other profession in America can you sign a contract, get hurt on the job, and then instantly lose the majority of your salary? In the NFL, this is known as a split contract. Another scenario is known as an injury grievance. Both scenarios leave the players with only a portion of that year's salary, with no other recourse for the teams or the league.

As an owner paying my players the majority of the revenue, I definitely would not want to guarantee any portion of a contract, nor would I want to give a player his salary if he could not perform. If the players union focused its efforts on getting a minimum portion of players contract guaranteed (1 or 2 years), and took less money on the revenue side, the outcome would be much more beneficial for the league.

Players would then not be rushed back on the field early from injury and the owners would be incentivized to increase roster sizes, which would increase the average length of an NFL career (currently less than 3.5 years). Further, the proposed extension of the season to 18 games would be more well-received, and concussions and other long-term injuries would have a chance to be better treated.

Let’s bring some common sense to the labor dispute and give some dignity back to the players, owners and teams.


— Jack Brewer is a former Giants/Vikings/Cardinals/Eagles player, who attended Harvard Business School while still in the NFL. He went on to work as a private wealth manager at Merrill Lynch, post-NFL and later started his own firm, a sports marketing company.