Last week's NFL Draft forever changed the lives of young men who won the hard-earned privilege of joining the National Football League. They will spend long hours in preparation, play the sport they love at the highest level, and form bonds with teammates, coaches, communities and fans. There will be incredible highs and also challenges for each draftee in the months and years ahead. But collectively, the class of 2015 — just as all those who have come before them — will all face one thing: a life after football.
Some like to point to those who do not do well after their playing experience. Transitioning out of any job can be difficult. In football, however, that transition is not something that former players face alone. What some commentators and fans do not fully understand is that the NFL provides extraordinary resources to support a player's success and well being both on and off the field — and long after they've left the game.
The NFL educates, provides programs, services and resources, and works like no other employer in assisting players and former players in attaining success off the field. This education continues throughout the season for players at every club, starting with our rookie symposium. Players then must take responsibility for their future by embracing these resources and understanding how to access them.
I knew beginning in my rookie season in 1992 that one day my playing experience would end and I would become part of the former player community. That foresight motivated me, as a labor leader during my playing days as it does in my present position in the league office, to champion what is dear to my heart — that our NFL Legends Community is cared for properly. The NFL takes great care to make sure our drafted rookies understand from Day 1 that it's never too early to plan for life after football.
My job involves keeping our game strong and assisting those who come after me to prosper during and after their playing experience. The work ethic and values learned through our great game are tremendous assets to leverage for success in other ventures. It takes personal responsibility, preparation and determination, matched with the right support, to do so.
The resources available to our former players have improved significantly since I entered the league. They include pension and disability benefits, 401(k) contributions from respective clubs and the club-funded NFL Annuity Plan for deferred compensation. With each new round of bargaining, the NFL appreciably expanded retiree benefits during the past decade, which included dedicating more than $600 million to increase pensions for pre-1993 players in the 2011 CBA.
Beyond the mentoring and education programs, the NFL is prepared with resources at all stages of players' lives, including when they are former players — from life insurance and savings plans, to joint-replacement benefits and counseling services. The NFL is committed to being a central part of our players' lives and identities forever.
Our Transition Assistance Program gives recently retired players the tools and peer-to-peer support for a successful transition into a post-NFL career. Our Continuing Education Program assists newly retired players who need to complete their undergraduate degree, pursue graduate studies or utilize other educational advancement opportunities. NFL Career Boot Camps offer transitioning and retired players the opportunity to work with established professionals in various fields and learn about careers that may interest them as they move into their post-NFL years.
These programs and others have successfully assisted hundreds of players to transition into successful lives after football. You will spot them contributing to communities around the country as doctors, CEOs, teachers, policemen, judges and elected officials, just to name a few.
Contrary to some portrayals of the livelihoods of these men, the majority of former NFL players are financially responsible and have stable families. An independent study by a federal agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, followed more than 3,000 NFL players over several decades and found that NFL players actually enjoy longer and generally healthier lives than their counterparts in the general population. NFL retirees have access to a wide range of health programs, including cardiovascular and prostate cancer screening; mental health programs, including a year-round hotline exclusively for players and their families; and a special program of long-term care insurance for those who become ill later in life.
To be sure, some former players will struggle with the transition and there is support in those cases as well. In the last year, former NFL players and their families have received more than $225 million in pension, disability, and survivor benefits. During their careers, players accumulate additional personal savings through the annuity plan, the 401(K) plan, and the health savings account. Each vested veteran has five years of medical care after retirement at the NFL's expense, and the current CBA gives them the option to remain in the medical plan for life.
Apart from these collectively bargained benefits, the NFL Player Care Foundation has supported more than 820 former players and their families with more than $8.2 million in financial assistance grants and 3,500 health screenings. More than $40 million has been distributed through the 88 Plan created in 2007 to provide funds for medical and custodial care for dementia, ALS and Parkinson's patients. .
The NFL Draft is always so much more than the first day in the life of a professional football player. It is the first day of a life-changing experience. I know from personal experience, the NFL works to ensure that every former player has the best possible opportunity to live a productive life after his playing experience.