Fair Pay? Pension Plans Vary from Sport to Sport. Baseball Players Get the Best Benefits. (Sports)

Article excerpt

Darrell Green's name is sprinkled through the record books of the National Football League (NFL). Once the 41-year-old defensive back wraps his career and reaches his 55th birthday, he will set yet another record: the largest pension ever paid to an NFL player. Thanks to his status as a two-decade player working entirely in the league's big-money era, Green can expect a monthly pension payment of $5,805.

"Benefits to the players have continued to increase over the years, and he's obviously played a long time," says Douglas Ell, an attorney serving as legal counsel for the NFL's pension plan. Yet Green's retirement, which would translate to a very healthy income for most Americans, pales in comparison to the $160,000 annual pension baseball's Cal Ripken Jr. can expect once he turns 62.

The vast differences between pensions of modern players and those from the 1940s and 1950s remain a source of lesser known but vicious debates. The NFL, the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball each have received steady protests in recent years from older retirees upset with pensions that are exponentially smaller than current minimum salaries for players. And internally, each league has wrestled with balancing their meteoric economic growth with the retirement needs and demands of a fast-growing pool of former players.

"Our era built the NFL, and now they don't give a damn at all about us," says Chuck Bednarik, a Hall of Fame linebacker and center with the Philadelphia Eagles whose monthly pension check is $1,200. "We have been completely and utterly forgotten. There are a lot of unhappy former athletes out there. What we get is just so insignificant."

Bednarik and the thousands of former players like him do not claim poverty. But they have a very hard time seeing the leagues do so much to promote and market their collective heritages and so little to boost player retirement plans. And while the latest extension of the NFL's collective-bargaining agreement will double the money paid out to pre-1968 players, Bednarik remains unimpressed. …