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Health insurance a prime player concern

MARCO ISLAND — Plenty of money questions from veterans and younger players alike are being fielded by members of the NFL Players Association board of directors — called player reps before the union dissolved last week when talks for a new collective bargaining agreement broke down and the owners locked out the players.

"Just last week I was at a clinic in Hawaii and a veteran was asking me not only how health care works, but how does the money play into it," Steelers tackle and former Gator Max Starks said. "We have to go through all scenarios with how this can play out, and we do.

"We've told guys a year out that this (lockout) could happen and to be smart and to cover your expenses. A lot of them might understand, but their families don't. Their wives or parents or fiancees don't. They have people asking to loan them money, people who may be counting on them, and they haven't said no. They need to have the ability to say no."

Since the owners implemented a lockout Saturday, players are responsible for signing up for and funding their health benefits under the federal government's COBRA law, which requires most employers with group health plans to offer employees the opportunity to temporarily continue their coverage with them if the employees' coverage otherwise would end due to a change in employment status.

The average monthly fee for a family policy is $2,400, the NFLPA says.

According to the league, the average player salary rose about 35 percent, from $1.4 million in 2005, the last year of the old labor deal, to $1.9 million in 2009. The league didn't have comparable figures for 2010 because no salary cap was in place.

Players are paid each of the 17 weeks of the regular season and get limited stipends during training camp and the preseason. So no paychecks would be arriving this time of year anyway. But with no collective bargaining agreement, players are not being paid any roster or signing bonuses due. They also must pay for their workouts and for insurance against injury during those sessions because team facilities are off-limits.

"The biggest concern right now is that we have some young players who don't have insurance and who have to pay COBRA and who may not have the ability to pay COBRA over a long term," union president Kevin Mawae said Thursday at the organization's annual meetings. "Is it a ton of players? No. But is it concern enough for us? Absolutely.

"But our players have known for the last two years that they've been asked to start saving money, cut down on the lifestyle and be ready for the worst-case scenario. And we believe that the majority of our players are."

If owners are counting on players to break rank because money is tight, the first sign of that likely would come in late summer.

"If one of our guys needs help, I'll reach out and help him and make sure we hear his needs," said Jets fullback Tony Richardson, a 16-year veteran and longtime member of the union's executive committee. "The guys who bury themselves in a corner and say, 'I've got to come out (and break ranks),' those are the guys we've got to reach."

Goodell writes to players: Commissioner Roger Goodell has sent a letter to all active players, outlining the league's last proposal to the union. Goodell wrote that "each passing day puts our game and our shared economics further at risk" and owners "are prepared to resume those negotiations at any time." Seahawks guard Chester Pitts, who was the player rep before the union dissolved, responded, "I've told my guys to take the letter and set it on fire. We're not that stupid."

Ex-player says football caused his ALS: Kevin Turner, who played fullback for the Patriots and Eagles from 1992-99, has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the incurable neuromuscular disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and he believes brain damage suffered on the field caused it. "Football had something to do with it," said Turner, 41, who has no family history of the disease. "I don't know to what extent, and I may not ever know. But there are too many people I know that have ALS and played football in similar positions. They seem to be linebackers, fullbacks, strong safeties. Those are big collision guys."

Health insurance a prime player concern 03/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 9:51pm]
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