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As Told To

Eric Dickerson clarifies his stance to help members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame receive increased benefits

‘I want to just make this perfectly clear: I want all players to have health care. All of them. Not just Hall of Famers. All of them.’

Editor’s Note: In collective bargaining with the NFL since 2011, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has negotiated increased benefits for retired players. The Legacy Benefit required the NFL to pay $620 million to boost pension payments. In 2012, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to an additional bump of Legacy Fund payments to former players, widows and beneficiaries. In 2014, the NFLPA and NFL agreed to a Special Benefit increase for players with credited seasons from 1993 through 1996, which cost more than $35 million to fund.

Los Angeles Rams great Eric Dickerson isn’t used to being thrown for a loss. But amid widespread criticism over his methods to help members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame receive increased benefits, the Hall of Fame running back acknowledged making missteps in pursuit of an honorable goal.

In a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, Hall of Fame president C. David Baker, and Dickerson, chairman of the Hall of Fame board, stated Hall of Famers would not attend the annual induction ceremony until inductees receive health insurance and an annual salary that includes a share of league revenue. Despite supporting the notion of increased benefits for all players, not just those in the Hall of Fame, some of the Hall of Famers who supposedly signed the letter, including Jerry Rice and Kurt Warner, denied that they ever committed to boycott Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Dickerson accepted responsibility for what he described as a “miscommunication.”

And Dickerson, rebuked by some former players for apparently only trying to help Hall of Famers, clarified his position, saying his ultimate goal is actually to help all players improve their lives. It has been a whirlwind period for Dickerson, who moved swiftly to set the record straight.

Here are his thoughts, as told to Jason Reid.

First of all, [the critics are] nitpicking at little bitty stuff. Was this guy on the board? Was that guy not on the board? Was Kurt Warner on the board? Was someone else on the board? Look, these are such small issues. The big thing here is that we’re trying to help the players. We’re not trying to hurt the players, but help the players. And I want to just make this perfectly clear: I want all players to have health care. All of them. Not just Hall of Famers. All of them.

I want all players to have a proper pension. Not just $700 a month. Not just $1,000 a month. That’s what people don’t understand. I talked to a buddy of mine today, he heard about what we’re trying to do. I said, ‘How long did you play in the NFL?’ He said he played 12 years. I said, ‘What’s your pension?’ He told me his pension is $2,300 a month. Now, that is a joke. It really is. We need to do better. We need to do better for the players. That’s the important thing.

We’re just starting with the Hall of Fame first. We’re starting with the Hall of Famers first because we can’t deal with the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] right now. They’re not doing anything with the CBA right now (the current agreement expires after the 2020 season).

My mission is to have all players have [lifetime] health care. The reason I said Hall of Famers first is because you’re going to recognize these names.

We’re not trying to hurt the players, but help the players.

You’re going to recognize that right off the bat. That will help bring the attention that we need. That’s why we started with the Hall of Famers. We’re in the Hall of Fame and we’re trying to help all the players. I saw where David Baker made a statement where he said that he’s for helping all players. Now, I met with David Baker a couple of weeks ago and he said nothing of the sort.

His thing was all about the Hall of Famers. I told him my mission is to one day help all players. That is what I want to do. He also threw a number out there at me, saying, ‘Well, this is what I can do. I can offer each Hall of Famer $50,000.’ I told him that’s not the number. I mean, for me, this is … I don’t want to say it’s an easy fix, but it could be an easy fix.

The NFL has done a good job of dividing players. That’s what is going on here. People are saying I’m not thinking about other players. They’re saying, ‘What about your other brothers?’ You think I would ever want to leave one of my offensive linemen behind? Absolutely not. I want this for all players. That’s what my mission is. Again, man, this is not to hurt anyone. This is to help everyone. This is to help all of the guys that gave everything they had to this game.

I called Jim Brown. I told Jim what I was trying to do. He said, ‘Eric, man, I want to say thank you for spearheading it. Thank you so much, because we need this. There are so many guys who are hurting.’ People just don’t understand what’s really going on with so many players out here. The first thing people think when they think of the NFL is that we’re all rich. They think all the former players are rich guys. That’s far from the truth. Most guys aren’t rich.

Yeah, the guys who are playing now are making some real money. Not all of the guys are making real money, but there are guys who are. You know what the average salary was when I played? The average salary when I played was $32,000. And I’m glad I played in my era. But I’m not a rich man. Am I doing OK? Yeah. But I’m not rich by no means. It’s just not like that for me and most guys who played when I did or before I did.

I went to the Hall of Fame this past year. I didn’t know some of the guys at the party [exclusively for Hall of Famers]. One guy got so mad because they had drinks that were $25. He said he couldn’t afford a drink in that place. This is a Hall of Famer. This is a ‘Gold Jacket.’ And he can’t afford a drink at the Hall of Fame? At a party for Hall of Famers? Yet the Hall of Fame said that we made $30 million [during the Hall of Fame] weekend.

But a Hall of Famer can’t get a $25 drink. He doesn’t have enough money to buy a drink. That’s why I just want everyone to understand that this is all for the players. This is not for me. When I met with David Baker, I explained where I was coming from. I made it clear. I said, ‘David, I want to thank you for what you’ve done for the Hall of Fame. I appreciate it. But understand this: I am here on behalf of the Hall of Famers.’ These guys need help.

One thing I am is loyal. I can’t be bought. I told him. I told him that there’s no number you can put out there to buy me. I told him that whatever everyone else gets, that’s what I want. If everyone else gets nothing, then I get nothing. I don’t want anyone to think this is a money grab for me, because it’s not. It’s not like that. This is to help. I’m trying to help the guys. It’s not just for Hall of Famers. This is for all the players. But all I’m saying is that we’ve just got to start with the Hall of Fame first.

Liner Notes

With 13,259 rushing yards, Eric Dickerson ranks eighth on the NFL’s all-time list. The Los Angeles Rams selected Dickerson second overall in the 1983 draft out of SMU. In his second season with the Rams, Dickerson rushed for 2,105 yards, establishing a new NFL single-season record. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro and won four rushing titles. In 1999, Dickerson was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.