Pro Football Hall of Famers demand NFL health insurance, salaries

A group of 22 NFL Hall of Fame inductees on Tuesday threatened in a letter to boycott future induction ceremonies if the league does not grant them permanent health insurance and a slice of annual revenue, though at least two of the players later said the letter misrepresented their views.

In a letter obtained by ESPN to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Pro Football Hall of Fame president C. David Baker, the former players said the NFL’s previous attempts to “appease” them amount to “public relations ploys” rather than effective solutions for the “severe health and financial problems” they face.  The letter’s signers include Joe Namath, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, among other league greats.

“We believe we deserve more,” the letter said. “We write to demand two things: Health insurance and an annual salary for all Hall of Famers that includes a share of league revenue. It might seem like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket for the country’s most profitable sports league.”

The NFL earned an estimated $14 billion in revenue during its 2017 league year, according to multiple reports, more than any of the four major U.S. sports leagues. The inductees argue that health insurance for every Pro Football Hall of Famer would cost about 3 cents for every $100 the league earns, while an annual salary would cost about 40 cents per $100 in revenue.

At least two of the players identified as co-signers of the letter later claimed that they have no intention of boycotting future ceremonies. Rice expressed support for efforts to secure health benefits for current and former NFL players, but said he was not a member of the “Hall of Fame board of directors” referenced in the letter.

Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner said his name was “mistakenly attached” to the letter.

An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The NFL is notorious for the hard line it takes against players in negotiations. Yet the league always seems to have plenty of money for other priorities,” the letter said, noting that Goodell earns $40 million annually under the terms of his recent contract extension.

The full list of Hall of Fame inductees said to have signed the letter includes Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen, Mel Blount, Derrick Brooks, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Richard Dent, Carl Ellard, Marshall Faulk, Mike Haynes, Rickey Jackson, Ronnie Lott, Curtis Martin, Joe Namath, John Randle, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jackie Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Kurt Warner and Sarah White, the widow of Reggie White.

The inductees say they are prepared to skip future induction ceremonies, which are traditionally attended by most, if not all, living Pro Football Hall of Fame members. The Pro Football Hall of Fame celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020.

This story has been updated.