“Supposedly no one knew it would fall out like this,” said Sylvia Mackey, whose husband, John Mackey, the Baltimore Colts’ Hall of Famer, died last July. “How they didn’t know, I have no idea.”
To extend the fund’s benefits to this group of widows, the NFL and the NFL Players Association would need to contribute about $14 million more. The two sides said they’re still working toward a solution, but so far the widows have received nothing more than progress reports that barely hint at progress.
“It’s big business,” said Sandra Unitas, whose late husband, Johnny Unitas, was one of the game’s most recognizable icons, “and we little guys seem to get shut out.”
The NFL’s owners met last week in Atlanta and agreed to start cutting checks that would pay the widows a portion of the money they’d be due.
“While those discussions have been inconclusive, the ownership decided it would go ahead on its own and provide the benefit to the widows and pay the same share for doing so that we are paying for the legacy fund,” said Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president.
That means the NFL soon will pay 51 percent of the money owed and also include retroactive benefit money dating from August, when the CBA was struck.
“We hope the union will come along and fund the balance of it,” Pash said, “but at least [the widows] won’t be sitting around getting nothing and looking for this seemingly inconclusive dicker to go on and on.”
The matter isn’t that simple, though. The NFLPA takes issue with the source of the NFL’s 51 percent, which would come from money generated by player fines. That means NFL players would indirectly be footing the entire bill, said Nolan Harrison, the NFLPA’s senior director of former player services, and owners would not have to open their wallets.
“It’s not us delaying it,” Harrison said. “We’ve been working very hard on this end of it, trying to figure out a resolution. For them to come back and want to spend player money instead of their own, that’s not a solution.”
The amount each widow would receive varies and is based on years of service. In addition to their husbands’ regular pensions, widows whose husbands played five to 10 years could receive $600 to $1,250 or more per month.
The widows don’t understand why they’ve received nothing while nearly 10 months have passed. The NFL said it intends to cut checks soon, but even if that happens, there’s no timeline on when they’ll see the remaining 49 percent.