The NFL and NFLPA have created several vehicles beyond the league's basic disability plan to assist injured former players. But these programs are in embryonic stages of development, and in some cases they have triggered grumbling among the families they are supposed to be helping.
For example, last year, the league and union announced the 88 Plan, which was named after the uniform number of ailing Hall of Famer John Mackey and promised up to $88,000 a year to retired players with dementia, whatever the cause. The news made national headlines, and in May, the Alzheimer's Association of New York honored NFLPA chief Gene Upshaw for his role in developing the plan.
So far, the 88 Plan has disbursed $861,502.64 to former players, an average of less than $17,000 per case.
The details of the 88 Plan came as a nasty surprise to at least one recipient.
"The way Roger Goodell and Gene Upshaw worded the plan, it sounded as if I could receive up to $88,000 a year to pay for whatever care my husband needed," Sharon Hawkins told ESPN.com. Sharon's husband, Wayne, a five-time AFL All-Star who played for the Raiders in the 1960s, has dementia and is unable to perform simple daily tasks.
After applying for benefits, the Hawkinses learned that the 88 Plan offers a maximum of $54,000 for retired players living at home, even though home care is typically more expensive. It's also a reimbursement program: Families shell out, then wait to get paid back. If they cannot afford the bills in the first place, they are out of luck. To date, the 88 Plan has approved 73 player applications, but only 51 have incurred reimbursable expenses, ESPN.com has learned.
Further, family members, such as wives who act as primary caregivers, cannot collect 88 Plan funds to care for retirees. So Sharon Hawkins either has to pay someone else to care for Wayne, or she can divorce her husband of 46 years to qualify as his caregiver.
"That's not going to happen," she said.
Wayne Hawkins' prescriptions are reimbursed by the 88 Plan, but only when the plan gets around to it. "I haven't heard from them since July," Sharon says. "And it actually comes to $40 a month. BFD.
"Pardon my language," she adds.
"Some may not understand the requirements at first, but our office provides a thorough explanation of what is needed to qualify [for the 88 Plan], such as a diagnosis of dementia from a specialist and receipts from a service provider," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told ESPN.com.
Aiello added, "Private insurance and government programs that deal with these kinds of needs are generally structured as reimbursement programs. This is not an income supplement, but a program to provide a specific type of care."
The NFL, NFLPA, NFL Alumni Association and Hall of Fame have also created the NFL Alliance, which announced in July that it would spend $7 million to help injured former players. And last month, the league pledged $10 million to the Alliance for joint replacement surgery, cardiovascular screenings and assisted living for retired players. But the Alliance hasn't distributed any of that money. It has not yet established eligibility guidelines for former players or selected doctors or hospitals to provide the care it intends to offer.
-- Peter Keating