SCOTT SIMON, host:
Pro football can certainly be dangerous. The National Football League and the Players Union say they do their best to help those hurt on the gridiron. But a House Judiciary subcommittee has a different view. It is investigating what it says is mistreatment by both the league and the union of retired players who were disabled.
One former defensive back has been especially outspoken about the issue, Bernard Parrish. He played for the Cleveland Browns and Houston Oilers from 1959 to 1966. Mr. Parrish feels so strongly that he filed a class-action suit in February claiming that the NFL Players Association colluded with the NFL to deny tens of millions of dollars to players.
Bernie Parrish joins us now from University of Florida in Gainesville. Mr. Parrish, are we talking about injuries or what amounts to a long-term pattern of - long-term disabilities that are part of the cost of playing the game?
Mr. BERNARD PARRISH (Retired Football Player, Cleveland Browns; Houston Oilers): I think people are most familiar right now with the concussions, just - all of the injuries in general - knees, hips, back and neck injuries. There have been 8,000 players who have played and out of those 8,000 only 317 are drawing benefits. Well, that's a remarkable statistic in the most dangerous sport that was ever invented. To have a 3 percent disability rate is astounding.
SIMON: We're talking about a lot of players who have played the game for a number of years who just can't afford medical care.
Mr. PARRISH: Yes. If the retirement plan was paying what it should, if it matched baseball's as we had intended when we won it back in 1959 to 1962, they could afford medical insurance. Baseball, its average benefit is about $36,700 a year. Our average benefit is under 14,000.
Our sport takes in $7.1 billion a year. That's billion dollars a years. Baseball takes in about 4.3 billion. And they have huge travel expenses that we don't have. They support a Minor League system that we don't have, and yet they are able to pay the pension plan that they are paying and they're still prosperous.
SIMON: Mr. Parrish, you might know the statistics given all of your research, how long is the career of an average NFL player?
Mr. PARRISH: Right now, it's given at 3.2 years. And the turnover is 27 percent turnover in the first year.
SIMON: And a more difficult question, even, what's the average age of mortality for a retired NFL player?
Mr. PARRISH: Well, we are told that the study show that it's in the 50s. Thank goodness, I'm 71 and an awful lot of my buddies are still kicking. And we're fighting a policy for both the Players Union and the league office. The league is delay, deny and hope we die.
SIMON: But, you know, you do know some players and players who've contacted you who need help and...
Mr. PARRISH: Many. Yeah. Many. And it's embarrassing. These guys have great pride. Brent Boyd is one. He played for Minneapolis. And Brent had concussions. He's suffering from terrible depression, migraine headaches. His memory has been affected. He's applied numerous times. He's been approved for full and complete disability by two doctors selected by the retirement plan, and they doctor shopped until they could find one who turned him down.
They lost their house. They've lived homeless for a good while. And I'll tell you some baseball players stepped up and helped him out for a while. So we have some major issues and we're not here begging with our hat in the hand. We have been not just betrayed morally but legally. And we're going to correct that.
SIMON: Bernie Parrish, number 30, always a Cleveland Brown. Thanks very much for speaking with us.
Mr. PARRISH: Thank you.
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