'The Trust' to assist former players

Updated: November 13, 2013, 2:55 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFLPA has set up an organization to aid former players, establishing it out of a $22 million fund from the collective bargaining agreement with the league.

Called The Trust, the group will assist players in areas such as brain and body evaluations; health and nutrition; physical fitness; career transition; and financial education. All of the services will be provided with no out-of-pocket costs to players.

I think it is going to change lives. I know that is a grand statement. I have seen the good and the bad and what happens when players transition out of football. I have seen families and players who have struggled or who have been successful. I know what we have available is what players need.

-- Bahati Van Pelt, executive director of The Trust

Any player with two or more accredited seasons in the league is eligible. Program managers to assist each player will be available.

"I think it is going to change lives," said Bahati Van Pelt, executive director of The Trust. "I know that is a grand statement. I have seen the good and the bad and what happens when players transition out of football. I have seen families and players who have struggled or who have been successful. I know what we have available is what players need."

The group will use social media to get out the word to former players, and it has four program managers who, in essence, will be case managers. Two of them are former players, Hannibal Navies and Zamir Cobb. Each retiree who reaches out to the organization will be assigned a program manager to find out his needs and information and walk him step by step through the process of getting help.

There's even a person assigned to handling travel arrangements, if needed, for the retirees to get health care.

"We are not going to sit here and wait for the phones to ring," Van Pelt said. "We will find ways to engage."

Van Pelt also wants the message to be clear that not all players retire from pro football and then can't find their way in the world.

"There is a misconception all players struggle once they leave the game," he said. "We want to make sure we tell the stories of players who transitioned successfully, or those who did have trouble transitioning and then turned that into a successful career."

The Trust also has partnered with the University of North Carolina, Tulane University and the Cleveland Clinic to provide brain and body assessments for former players. A player's spouse can accompany him for free.

"One of the things we have charged ourselves with is being flexible," Van Pelt said. "If there is a need we're not meeting, we can address that. If we are not doing something correctly, we make sure we fix it."

The Cleveland Clinic said in a statement that it will host players at its main location in Cleveland as well as at its locations in Weston, Fla., and Las Vegas.

"Athletic injuries and sports-related brain trauma have become part of the public consciousness and are being viewed as legitimate public health problems," said Jay Alberts, the director of the Cleveland Clinic Concussion Center. "Former professional football players, in particular, are at increased risk for neurological disease. The goal of this program is to identify potential problems -- physical, neurological or cognitive -- earlier, which may lead to earlier interventions and treatments."

The NFL also has programs for retired players under the guidance of former Pro Bowl defensive back Troy Vincent. The Trust provides an additional suite of services for former players and creates a specialized set of services for retirees that has funding guaranteed through 2021, with a 5 percent escalation per year.

Money is designated for such funding before the salary cap is determined each season.

Van Pelt has worked with Vincent and also worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.

"Our mission is living up to our word every day," he said, "and by doing that we will build something that is significant. As more players retire, we will be a resource for them for the rest of their lives."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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