Dear Richard ...
By Troy Vincent
As a 15-year NFL veteran, former president of the NFL Players Association and now NFL Senior Vice President of Player Engagement who oversees player benefits, I would like to respond to Seattle’s Richard Sherman—who penned 'Welcome To My League' in this space last week—to give the fans a peek into a conversation between members of the NFL family.
NEW YORK — Richard, I appreciate the thoughtfulness and passion you put into your essay about how you would change things as NFL commissioner. Your ideas give us an opportunity to discuss player benefits, fines, safety and transition, and to educate players and fans on these issues. I encourage you to continue to be a voice; to have dialogue; and to share your personal responsibility and accountability in making all of us better for the sport we love.
NFL Player Engagement assists players and their families in reaching their highest potential on and off the field with guidance, support, and resources provided before, during, and after their NFL experience. We stress a peer-to-peer model. That means, wherever possible, players interacting with players.
Former Miami Dolphins linebacker Dwight Hollier directs our mental health and Total Wellness initiatives. Former NFL receiver James Thrash oversees our Transition Assistance Program. Super Bowl champion receiver David Tyree serves in player support, specializing in player services and benefits. We also have 150 former players assisting us as Ambassadors, Transition Coaches and Legends directors and coordinators.
Our player benefits and Legends program (outreach to former players) is supervised by former NFL Pro Bowl player Patrick Kerney, vice president of player benefits and legends operations. We continue to streamline processes to provide better access to benefits and programs for those who made this league what it is today. In the past 12 months, for example, the NFL has paid out $65 million in disability benefits to former players.
But like in a football game, we can only control what we can control. Issues often are like the rules of the game. We have to line up and play by them. Some areas you mentioned are those where the commissioner is bound by what is negotiated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the Players Association.
For example, you recommended leaving the system for on-field discipline to former players and coaches. Former player Merton Hanks, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, determines discipline for on-field player violations. Appeals are heard and decided by former NFL coach Ted Cottrell or former NFL player Matt Birk, the appeals officers appointed jointly by the NFL and NFL Players Association in accordance with the CBA.
No player should intentionally try to harm another player, but rules affecting player safety are overseen by the league’s Competition Committee, which includes coaches and extensive dialogue with players through the NFLPA. To your point, the “strike zone” is an ongoing discussion both privately and publicly.
Another good idea you expressed is that fines for helmet-to-helmet hits be directed to players suffering from head trauma. Also per the CBA, all on-field player fines collected by the league are donated through the NFL Foundation to assist former players in need via the NFL Player Care Foundation and the NFLPA’s Player Assistance Trust. The Player Care Foundation’s “88 Plan” provides financial support to former players suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
We agree that player compensation for the playoffs should include a fair share of playoff revenue. This also is determined by the CBA, not the commissioner. The money available in player contract negotiations includes post-season revenue. In addition, players in the playoffs receive additional compensation. For a division champion with a first-round bye that wins the Super Bowl this season, each player will receive an additional $157,000 for his post-season play.
We defensive backs are a fiery, passionate bunch, often put on an island by ourselves to survive with each play. We don’t waste movement nor mince words, and it’s good that we can value one another’s opinions, as I do yours. It’s also important that we get the straight scoop. This is how we get better. It’s how we improve the game. Let’s find a way to keep the dialogue going because through it we educate one another and fans about the past, present and future of our game.