In 1993, the National Football League (NFL) and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) reached a collective bargaining agreement that set a low, fixed pension benefit for NFL players who retired before 1993 and included no other benefits like the 401(k), life insurance plan, health reimbursement account and annuity plan that post-1993 retirees received. Furthermore, the average pension for a pre-93 NFL retiree is less than one-quarter of NBA, NHL and MLB players of the same era. While many fans assume any NFL player is worth millions, the league’s pioneer players played during a time in which most of them were required to work part-time jobs during the off-season just to support themselves. Throughout their careers, they assumed the league would look after them once they retired, but the 1993 CBA left many of the men who paved the way for the NFL to become what it is today struggling just to keep their heads above water and cover their medical expenses.
With the negotiations for the 2021 CBA beginning to take place, Lisa Marie Riggins, the wife of NFL Hall of Famer John Riggins, approached PLUS with an idea: create a nonprofit organization to launch a national awareness program on the plight pre-93 retirees face to ensure their needs are addressed in the 2021 CBA.
After helping create a 501[c](3) organization called Fairness for Athletes in Retirement (FAIR), PLUS launched a national earned media and advocacy campaign to educate current and former players, as well as influencers, the NFL and the NFLPA on the urgent need for NFL pension reform.
We began our campaign by hosting a fundraiser/dinner with a number of hall of fame NFL players to secure the initial funds FAIR needed to carry out our campaign and establish legitimacy within key sports circles, which was covered by the New York Times. After the initial launch, we began creating a series of testimonial videos from some of the game’s most recognizable voices such as Franco Harris, Dick Butkus, Ken Houston, Joe Jacoby and Joe DeLamielleure stressing the urgent need for the NFLPA and NFL to increase pensions for pre-93 retirees.
After FAIR was firmly established as the leading voice for pre-93 retirees, we placed a number of op-eds signed by hall of famers on the issue in prominent outlets such as the Houston Chronicle and Charleston Post Courier while pitching and securing coverage in publications such as the USA Today, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle and Washingtonian.
As we secured earned media deliverables, we amplified them through ICYMIs, targeted email blasts and social media to a broad list of influencers, including journalists and current NFLPA player reps.
While the fight for NFL pension reform continued until the 2021 CBA was finalized, we knew our efforts were making progress after NFLPA Executive Director Demaurice Smith promised to prioritize retiree benefits in the upcoming CBA during a Super Bowl press conference. FAIR succeeded with the March 2020 CBA raising pre-93 pensions by 53 percent — the largest increase they’ve ever received.