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Greats call on players to take care of retirees

NOVI, Mich. — Gale Sayers sent a stern message to NFL players, challenging them to help those who paved the way.

"Some players of today's game think that they made the game what it is today. I beg to differ," Sayers said Friday at an event hosted by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. "The players who are playing today are standing on the shoulders of those who made the game what it is, that played the game for peanuts.

"If today's players cannot help these players, shame on you."

The former Bears running back was honored along with retired stars such as fellow Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau and 1997 Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard.

NFL players asked a federal appeals court Friday in St. Louis to declare the lockout illegal, and a lawsuit they filed against the league was amended to included complaints from retirees.

Hall of Fame player and former Bears coach Mike Ditka said that before the dispute can be settled to save the season, both sides must be willing to negotiate instead of trying to make legal arguments in court.

"You can't let egos get in the way of negotiation," Ditka said. "You have to give to take."

The sides are trying to figure out how to share the league's $9 billion in annual revenue.

"It's kind of goofy," Ditka said. "The American public can't feel sorry for either side because they can't relate."

Retired players are pushing for better pension and health benefits from the league and players in the next collective bargaining agreement.

"If they want to fix the pension for former players, all they have to do is match what baseball does for their former players; they have the best pension in all of sports," Ditka said.

The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund has contributed more than $2.5 million over the past four years in financial and medical help for retired players.

Obituary: Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson, 81, died Friday in Tracy, Calif. Mr. Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowl player (1954, 1962-64), was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987 after a 14-season career. He played three with the 49ers (1954-56), teaming with running backs Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny and quarterback Y.A. Tittle in the "Million Dollar Backfield." It's the only full-house backfield to have all four members in the Hall of Fame. He was on the Lions' title-winning team in 1957 and also played for the Steelers and Oilers.

Snyder backlash: Redskins owner Daniel Snyder's lawsuit against Washington City Paper over critical commentary led U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., to focus on enacting legislation that gives greater protection of First Amendment rights to those facing such lawsuits, the Washington Post reported. Cohen wrote in Roll Call that strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, are dangerous and a law should be passed to protect individuals and publications.

Greats call on players to take care of retirees 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 7:41pm]
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