The beginning of the end of Sieg Motta’s football career came in December 2013 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, when he ran downfield to cover the kickoff of the Atlanta Falcons. His two blockers for the Packers knocked him to the ground and he was briefly unconscious.
He had suffered a fracture of the C1 vertebra, which is located at the base of his skull and keeps his head upright. After two surgeries, Motta, then 24, was told by his doctors that the risk was too high to continue playing.
At that time, his physical problems became financial problems as well. This is a common story with hundreds of former NFL players who have suffered injuries on the field, especially early in their careers. Motta was a rookie when he got injured, so he wasn’t eligible for a pension or post-retirement health care. And his applications for disability benefits, administered jointly by the league and unions, have been repeatedly denied.
“I’m still trying to find my way,” said Motta, now 32. He saved enough money from his short professional career to buy a house, but the lingering physical effects of his injury limited the types of work he could do.
“I have spent my whole life playing football and working towards my dream,” Motta said.
This month, 24-year-old Buffalo Bills safety Dummer Hamlin was back on the field after suffering cardiac arrest during a primetime NFL game. His collapse shocked television audiences across the country and highlighted the potentially grave dangers of playing football.
In just two years, Hamlin had fallen short of the three-year threshold for pensions and other important benefits. With the attention his case has received, the NFL and the Bills are all but guarantees that he will get medical attention if he never plays again. But Motta and hundreds of other players whose young careers have been derailed by injuries are often less fortunate. Some people have a hard time getting help.
Michael Leroy, a sports labor law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said: “The world’s consensus is on Hamlin, but it’s important to note that journeymen who leave the league with serious problems. It means there are many,” he said. “People assume players are cared for. But the NFL loves you until you get hurt, and then you’re a different person.”
Belinda Lerner, head of NFL player benefits and retired player programs, said the league has expanded benefits and retroactively granted pensions to former players who were previously ineligible.
“Pain has become a part of my life”
Eligibility when a player leaves the game due to injury is agreed upon by the NFL and the Players Union. The league’s annual revenue is about $18 billion, and player salaries and benefits are funded by a player’s share of that pot, which the union and league decide how to divide.
The Fall of Dummer Hamlin
The Buffalo Bills’ safety went into cardiac arrest during an NFL game in Cincinnati on Jan. 2. He was released from the hospital on January 11th.
- injury and reaction: Damar Hamlin’s life-threatening injury televised on “Monday Night Football” has resonated throughout the league and sports world.
- his recovery: Hamlin, who came home nine days after collapsing, appears to be on track for a neurological recovery, but doctors say it’s too early to know how far he’ll go back to normal life. I’m here.
- beat the odds: If cardiac arrest statistics were any guide, Hamlin wouldn’t have survived. Meet the doctors, nurses and medical professionals who have saved lives at Cincinnati hospitals.
- Emergency response: As Hamlin’s heart stopped, medical personnel were heard revealing the seriousness of his condition and the efforts to keep him alive.
Unlike the NBA and MLB, teams typically don’t offer players fully guaranteed contracts.
Retired NFL players receive five years of health insurance, but only if vested by their third season. (The average NFL player’s career spans him less than four years.) When players asked for health insurance extensions in 2011 talks, team owners said the cost would come from a portion of the player’s earnings. argued that it should. Currently about 48%.
Domonik Foxworth, a retired NFL cornerback and former president of the players’ union, said the pay cut was a deal his players didn’t want.
“Football-playing 20-somethings don’t want their incomes to dwindle for lifelong health care,” Foxworth said.
Whether or not Hamlin seeks a return to football, his contract highlights how young players earn less compared to the league’s stars, despite remaining injured before losing his job. doing.
Hamlin, a sixth-round pick in the 2021 Draft, signed a four-year, $3.6 million rookie deal that included $660,000 in the first year and $825,000 in the second (minimum salary set by collective bargaining agreement). ). The NFL’s average annual salary exceeds his $2 million, and the league’s star player earns his eight-figure earnings each season.
Hamlin’s contract included a standard stipulation that his salary would be cut in half if he was placed on the injured reserve, but the union and league insisted that he be paid in full. A deal has been made. Even if Hamlin doesn’t return to the field next season, he can still get his full $940,000 paycheck back as part of his expanded injury protection benefits under his last labor contract.
A variety of resources designed to fill the gaps for disenfranchised players, including union hardship funds and NFL citywide hospital networks where players receive free annual health checks and other care there is. But in a sport where a career ends with his one play and can leave a long-term impact on a player, that’s often not enough.
All injured players can apply for duty benefits, a category of disability. Approved players receive at least $4,500 per month or $54,000 per year for 7.5 years.
“It’s basically injury retirement,” said Paul Scott, who worked for the NFL Player Benefit Disability Plan before launching the benefits huddle to help players file claims.
As program manager until 2016, Scott answered calls from players applying for benefits, so he knew firsthand how difficult it was to get benefits approved. At that point, only about half of the applications for Line of Duty benefits were approved, Scott said. The union declined to say what its current approval rating is.
About $320 million will be paid out this year to about 3,200 former players who receive some kind of disability benefit, according to the union. “We advocate a fair process to ensure that all players are treated equally when applying,” the union said in a statement.
So far, Motta is one of the applicants rejected by the Disability Commission.
Motta was eager to play at Lambeau Field that day, so he wrapped his broken right hand in a club and was given a trudle before the match to ease the pain.
After the collision that fractured his vertebrae, Motta was still dazed when he was brought back onto the field to fill in the safety of the starting line-up, who left the game with a concussion. After the game, he felt no pain in his neck until he struggled to remove his pads. Only after Motta had attended practice and started the next game did the team send Motta for magnetic resonance imaging of his spine.
Motta said his application for Line of Duty benefits was denied based on the disability plan’s points system.
“Not many athletes experience fractures of the C1 vertebra, so they really don’t know how to assess the symptoms.” became.”
Motta received workers’ compensation and sued the Falcons medical staff over the treatment of his injuries (the lawsuit was settled out of court). Sitting at a desk in a customer service job made the pain worse, so he now teaches qigong, a Chinese mind-body practice, and works as a freediving instructor. We plan to make a final appeal to the Board of Appeals.
Benefits are out of reach, even with injuries
Fifteen years before Hamlin collapsed, former Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered a spinal cord injury in the opening game of the 2007 season, his third game in the league. Initially paralyzed from the neck down, Everett earned his right by spending the season on the disabled list.
Disqualified players may apply for full and permanent disability, but must meet strict criteria to be eligible. It’s unclear what kind of support Hamlin will need, but Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said he would “get the resources he needs” to live a “full life.” I promise.
However, this ad-hoc approach raises fairness issues. Many unearned players who quietly left the NFL because their careers ended are largely left to deal with themselves.
Kenny Blair, who joined the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie in 1981, was injured during training camp. As he jumped to catch the pass, a defender hit his chest helmet first, breaking his sternum and leading to cardiac arrest. Blair spent weeks in the hospital and had a metal plate placed in his chest.
Blair said he had to sign a release letter to receive his final paycheck. He never played a match in the league.
Blair doesn’t remember who told him how to apply for benefits and was ineligible for pensions or other retirement benefits. I suffer from vertigo and nerve and vision problems.
“It was dirty for them to hurt me like that,” he said. “All I wanted to do was play football.”
Offensive lineman Cameron Clarke, a fourth-round 2020 Jets draft pick, collapsed after colliding with a teammate during practice at the second training camp. He lost sensation in his entire body except his right arm for over an hour. A specialist diagnosed him with a spinal cord injury and told him that if he continued playing football, he would risk being permanently paralyzed.
Clark, who was forced to retire at age 24, said he applied for disability benefits but was denied.
“My career ended because of an injury that happened at an NFL facility,” Clark said. I felt I was entitled to a job, but I was rejected.”
Whether or not these players’ appeals are approved, the harsh reality Hamlin’s injury has highlighted is unlikely to change.
“For humanitarian and business reasons, no one wants this to happen again,” said Nellie Drew, a professor of sports law at the University of Buffalo. , which epitomizes how the game is very, very dangerous.”