GridIron Greats visit Milwaukee for a good cause

By - Nov 9th, 2009 12:04 pm
Mike Ditka and fellow GGAF board member, Jimmy Johnson, speak at a recent press conference announcing a $25,000 donation by Jaimie Foxx (Courtesy of GridIron Greats Assistance Fund)

Mike Ditka and fellow GGAF board member Jimmy Johnson speak at a recent press conference announcing a $25,000 donation by actor Jamie Foxx. Photo, courtesy of GridIron Greats Assistance Fund.

It’s an all-too-common story: A football player sacrifices his body to the game he loves, suffering injury after injury in the pursuit of athletic achievement and national notoriety. But when their career ends, the daily rigors of “normal life” are complicated by the injuries suffered. If they haven’t saved enough money in their short career (the average player is only in the league for three and a half years), costly medical bills can quickly spiral out of control and leave a once-revered athlete with nothing at all.

That’s where the GridIron Greats Assistance Fund (GGAF) steps in.

GGAF provides medical care, counseling and financial assistance to former players with at least three years of NFL service time. According to GGAF President Ken Valdiserri, the organization typically helps 45-50 players each year; but due to the recession, it’s receiving even more requests for assistance.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the GridIron Greats Assistance Fund will host a dinner at the Milwaukee Athletic Club to benefit retired NFL players suffering from the physical and emotional toll of a life filled with hard knocks on and off the field.Featuring former Chicago Bears head coach, Mike Ditka, and Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy, the dinner represents the cooperative efforts of retired players and active management to remember the contributions made by former players during the fledgling beginnings of the National Football League and into its present incarnation as a multibillion-dollar business.

The GGAF tends to steer clear of direct lobbying in the politically charged issues that many believe are why former players are in need of financial and medical assistance. The most prominent of those reasons being that the soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players union does not provide reasonable pensions or sufficient health insurance coverage for retired players.

Nor do either the players union or owners do enough to address the growing consensus among medical researchers that repeated head trauma — the kind endured by players each and every Sunday — leads to an early onset of dementia, which, in turn, contributes to the depression that leaves many retired players without the ability to turn their lives around on their own.

The GGAF faces an uphill battle convincing a larger proportion of active players that they should care about the needs of retired players. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees made waves when he described his reservations about helping retired players in need: “There’s some guys out there that have made bad business decisions … They took their pensions early because they never went out and got a job. They’ve had a couple divorces, and they’re making payments to this place and that place. And that’s why they don’t have money. And they’re coming to us to basically say, ‘Please make up for my bad judgment.'”

When I asked Valdiserri about Brees’ statement, he characterized Brees’ example as “isolated” and added, ” We feel overall the players who helped ‘pioneer’ the game and who may have incurred injuries as a result of their playing days deserve to live a ‘quality of life’ and should be provided the most basic needs such as health insurance, a fair … and standard pension based on their years of service.”

Despite any hesitancy among active players, the GGAF’s mission serves to ensure that when those same players step off the field they’ll be afforded the same compassion and assistance, regardless of their current feelings toward players in need. It’s with this benevolent spirit that the GGAF provides an admirable voice, asking that everyone who relishes the competitive violence of football not forget the humanity that exists when the stadium lights fade.

The GridIron Greats Assistance Fund Dinner is Wednesday, Nov. 11, 5:30 p.m. at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, located at 758 N. Broadway Ave. Tickets are $85. To make reservations, please contact Brad Schendel at 414-272 -0622.


Categories: Life & Leisure, Sports

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