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Thursday, July 14, 2011
Jerry Kramer: Not 'our position to judge'

By Kevin Seifert

From what I can tell, only a fraction of you have followed the NFL labor dispute on a blow-by-blow level. An even smaller fraction seem interested in the debate between active and retired players, but we have an NFC North tie-in to the latter that gives us a window to touch on what is a really sensitive situation.

In essence, the fight centers on the extent to which the NFL Players Association should offer financial assistance to retired players in need. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees came under heavy fire this spring for suggesting that at least some of the retired players are in predicaments of their own doing.

"There's some guys out there that have made bad business decisions," Brees said. "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.' ... In that case, that's not our fault as players."

In the abstract, Brees had a point. The NFLPA isn't part of a federal bailout program. It has a responsibility to help those afflicted by the game, not necessarily those afflicted by themselves.

But how often is the distinction so clear? Rarely, according to former Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer. In an interview with WBAY-TV this week, Kramer suggested the causes of financial despair can bleed into each other.

"Drew Brees is stupid," Kramer said. "He's young, ignorant, has no experience and doesn't know what the hell he is talking about. Life brings a lot of different things at you, and Drew hasn't seen any of the bad ones yet. He's been fortunate, but there are a lot of different reasons out there why guys can't hold on to their money and it's not really our position to judge whether they should have held on to their money or not. They need help.

"Let's try and help them turn it around and get them going again. Let's not say, 'Hey, go bury yourself or climb in a hole because we don't owe you anything.' There [are] a lot of reasons why guys need help, and if a guy needs help, I think, it's my responsibility to try and help -- not figure out what he should have done or where he should have gotten a different education or what his momma should have told him a long time ago. If I were as smart as Drew Brees I would know all of that stuff, but I don't."

There is some obvious bitterness in Kramer's words, but his underlying point is worth noting: Brees might think differently if he were in the position of some needy retired players. He might also hope that some mistakes, legitimate or otherwise, could be overlooked in the name of fraternity and respect for those who planted the foundation for the league's current success. What say you?