Former NFL players and military hold joint fundraiser
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11/12/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Over the past couple of years, many retired professional players have clashed with current players over pension and disability payments that the retirees have criticized as unfairly low, if they qualify for them at all.

In an effort to increase awareness of their plight, today that group announced a partnership with the U.S. Military Special Operations Community. The partnership will share in joint fundraising efforts for the former players, and for the group that pays for scholarships for the children of U.S. Special Forces killed in action.

Retired Air Force Col. John Carney described how the military program began. Carney said 119 children are currently enrolled in colleges across the country, and the Special Forces Warrior Foundation is committed to paying for the college education for 750 kids.

Stephanie Montos attended USF as a beneficiary of the program.

The Warrior Foundation and the former NFL players group, called Gridiron Greats, will host a number of events in Tampa days before the Super Bowl in late January.

The Gridiron Gates is led by former NFL player, coach and broadcaster Mike Ditka. The group tries to help out former players with health care and other related issues.

Joining Ditka at the Hard Rock Seminole Café were more than 20 former NFL players, many whom played for the University of Florida, Florida State or the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Mark Royals, a former punter with the Buccaneers, described why former players like him are angry about the current situation on evaluating whether they qualify for disability coverage. Royals says he has gone through the process five times and has to wait six months for his latest evaluation.

He’s certainly not alone. According to a 2005 Pittsburg Post-Gazette study of 3,500 players, barely 130, or less than 1 percent have earned full disability.

Over the years, there has been a building resentment among some former players, led by Mike Ditka, toward the National Football League’s Players Association – formerly led by Gene Upshaw, who died earlier this year. Active players have yet to vote on Upshaw's successor.

Pat Matson played 10 years in the NFL in the 1960s and 70s. He has had more than 30 operations since retiring 33 years ago. He blasted the NFL Commissioner and the Players Association for indifference.

The tide may be turning for the former players.

On Monday, a jury in San Francisco found in favor of more than 2,000 retired NFL players in their class-action lawsuit against the Players Association, awarding more than $28 million in damages.

Ditka praised the members of the U.S. military. He said he visited severely wounded troops on Veteran's Day in Tampa, and was moved by their situation.

Former Chicago Bear Gayle Sayers said he visited Iraq in 2005, and the injuries suffered by our troops are sanitized for the U.S. media.

For more information on the Gridiron Greats, go to GridironGreats.org.

For more information on the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, go to Specialops.org.

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