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Letter to the Editor: Let me tell you the story of former National Football League player Greg Gaines.

May 14, 2011


If you are undecided whether to support the players or the owners in the National Football League labor negotiations, let me tell you the story of former National Football League player Greg Gaines.


Born on October 16, 1958, Greg was a 6-foot 3-inch undersized outside linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks in 1981, 1983-1989.  He played his college ball as a safety for the Tennessee Volunteers.


Whatever fascination certain sports or professions have on people; football certainly had that effect on Greg Gaines.  Greg loved football to the point where some people say he played dirty and yet Greg says because of his lack of size and assigned to play linebacker in the NFL, he had to play at the most aggressive level.  He prides himself on feeling as if he gave every ounce of effort on every play.


Unfortunately, as we have learned with increasing regularity, the problem with this gung-ho attitude is that the human body is not bullet proof or shock proof or injury resistant.


Greg Gaines is living proof of that, as are many retired NFL players.  Gaines has been operated on at least 40 times.  Eight back surgeries, at least 10-15 knee surgeries, three shoulder surgeries, and needing another one for a shoulder the doctor has proclaimed the worst he has even seen.  Each of those surgeries required anesthesia.  Greg says each time under anesthesia, you lose a little of your brain’s ability to function correctly.


Greg Gaines did not start his athletic career at his high school in Nashville, Tennessee (starring in both baseball and football) intending to be the poster boy for the deplorable way the National Football League treats its retired players.  However, he certainly is living proof that once your playing days are over you are no more use to the NFL than last week’s garbage.


Gaines’ story is not unique.  Many, many retired NFL players walk with artificial knees, hips, and ankles, as does Greg.


Many have dementia due to multiple concussions of the head and brain, as does Greg.  Conveniently, the NFL does NOT compensate retired players for dementia.


Many live with such chronic pain that they are willing to take unhealthy amounts of pain medication just to get through the day and night.  When the player builds up immunity to the pain medication, they take larger and more serious forms.  More than one retired NFL player has become addicted to morphine.  When that happens, most of the choices one has, lead to problems covering up problems.  I do not think anyone will be surprised when we see multiple accounts of dementia and Alzheimer among retired National Football League players in the coming years.


Until a few years ago, very few players made enough money playing the game to retire and be set for life.  Greg Gaines signed a two-year contract in 1981 for $30,000 per year.  His last playing year of 1989, Greg made $260,000.  After his playing days, Greg worked nine years in scouting and the front office of the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers.


Life can be a bit challenging when you have a wife and are trying to raise three kids, yet your body aches with every breath.  The grind puts all kinds of limitations on you.


Fortunately, Greg says he married a wonderful Christian woman (Gina) in college and she has been with him every step of the way.  Without her, Greg says he doubts he would have made it.


You have all heard that many former players were not happy with the leadership of player’s union president, Gene Upshaw.  For whatever reason, the players did not think that Upshaw fought for the rights of retired players as much as he should have.


Until a few years, ago, players could not get disability compensation unless they were incapable of working at any job, including selling pencils on the street.


Now, the players can get Social Security with Medicare, they get their pension based on the number of years they played, and they get disability based on the nature of the disability; however that amount has not been raised in the last five years.


Even if permanently disabled, such as paralysis, the compensation is/was only a lump sum of $220,000.


1)      Millions of fans say they would play professional sports free.

        Perhaps this is true.  However, if that same fan was injured playing that sport, had no income, no health care, and was in constant pain because of their condition, their attitude might change.


2)      Millions of fans think professional athletes are spoiled and pampered.

        Perhaps this is also true.  However, name me a top executive of a Fortune 500 company who is not spoiled and pampered.  In addition to outrageous salaries compared to the rest of the workers in the company, they receive benefits such as company cars, company paid health insurance, company paid club memberships, etc.  In addition, they do not have an optimum working window of five to ten years as most professional athletes have.  (Even less for professional football players.)  In almost all cases, Fortune 500 executives do not have to retire prematurely because of an injury.


3)      Millions of fans think professional athletes are over-paid.

        Let’s look at the 2010 compensation of the top five executives of Ford Motor Company, a company that has lost billions of dollars for its share holders over the last decade and released nearly half of its work force (many of them on bitter terms).  Ask the 100,000 or so folks who lost their jobs if they think the following five clowns are over paid.  Most will agree that many more people in America could do the job of these executives than could play linebacker in the National Football League.

                                                               i.      Alan Mulally-President and CEO-$26,520,515 (includes extra compensation for tax reimbursement, life insurance premiums, company contributions to retirement and 401 (k) plan, company phone cards, company cell phones, personal use of car and driver service, personal use of company season tickets to athletic events, personal use of company club memberships, annual executive health exams, fuel and car washes related to the evaluation of vehicles, temporary housing and relocation expenses.

                                                             ii.      Lewis Booth-Executive V.P. and CFO-$8,196,821

                                                            iii.      Bill Ford Jr.-Executive Chairman-$26,460,998

                                                           iv.      Mark Fields-Executive V.P.-$8,818,892

                                                             v.      John Fleming-Executive V.P. Manufacturing and Labor-$5,916,261



Today, because of numerous concussions, Greg Gaines’ memory is so bad he forgets the name of the person he is talking with.  Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans show him with spots on his brain that are areas of concern.   He has irrational thoughts that are hard for people to understand.  He cannot take pain medicine anymore because the chances of him getting addicted again are too great.  He is able to take some anti-seizure medicine and some medicine for pre-Alzheimer disease.


During Greg’s last year in the league with Kansas City, (he was on injured reserve the entire season so he did not play) Hall of Fame center Mike Webster of Pittsburgh Steelers fame was also on the team.  Greg saw the overall condition of Webster.  When Webster committed suicide a few years later, Gaines was saddened but not very surprised.  Considering all the hits to the head Webster sustained during his career, Gaines says he can see why guys will pull the trigger.


As far as performance enhancers, Greg says you have to understand the dynamics of the 1980s.  Anything went and most guys participated.  The only question the team asked of you was, “Are you going to be ready to play on Sunday?”  Gaines says, “If you wanted to keep your job, you did or took whatever was necessary.”


Today, Greg speaks with youth groups, schools, churches etc. about the honesty and ugliness of professional football.  Most kids want to hear about the glory but very few comprehend the consequences and decimation of the physical body.  Gaines cannot take any compensation for these talks because that would disqualify him from receiving disability compensation.  Such are the limitations and hazards of being a retired NFL player with a body decimated beyond its years.


If you are still convinced that the National Football League players should just shut-up and play, give Greg Gaines a call at 615-435-3424 or send him an email at and listen to the anger in his voice.  Listen to the horror stories of his doctor visits and his fight for compensation for medical treatment due to injuries sustained in the employment of the National Football League.


Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees will make $15-$20 million the next year football is played.  For every one of them there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others who will be out of the league in three years, unable to walk or swing a golf club or even enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.


Those are the folks for which union president, DeMaurice Smith, is fighting.




George Sarkisian

Chief Executive Officer

Farmington Hills, Michigan 48334

Tel: 248-626-9137

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