Gale Sayers challenges current players

NOVI, Mich. -- Gale Sayers sent a stern message to NFL players, challenging them to help those who paved the way.

"Some players of today's game think that they made the game what it is today. I beg to differ," Sayers said Friday night at an event hosted by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. "The players who are playing today are standing on the shoulders of those who made the game what it is that played the game for peanuts.

"If today's players cannot help these players, shame on you."

The former Chicago Bears running back was honored along with retired stars such as Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau and 1997 Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard.

NFL players asked a federal appeals court earlier Friday in St. Louis to declare the lockout illegal almost three months after it started. A lawsuit filed by current players against the league has been amended to included complaints from retirees led by Hall of Famer Carl Eller.

Hall of Fame player and former Chicago coach Mike Ditka said before the dispute can be settled to save the season, both sides have to be willing to negotiate at the bargaining table instead of trying to make legal arguments in court.

"You can't let egos get in the way of negotiation," Ditka said. "You have to give to take.

"You can't figure out a way to $9 billion? It's kind of goofy. The American public can't feel sorry for either side because they can't relate."

Retired players are pushing for better pension and health benefits from the league and players in the next collective bargaining agreement.

"If they want to fix the pension for former players, all they have to do is match what baseball does for their former players, they have the best pension in all of sports," Ditka said. "I'm fighting for the disability and the medical help that we need. One thing the current players should be fighting is for medical care for after their careers. Not for five years, but for 20, 30, 40 years. We're finding guys who are 50, 60, 70, they're suffering from head injuries and everything else."

The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund has contributed more than $2.5 million over the past four years in financial and medical help for retired players.

LeBeau, defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was in the same room at the gala dinner with one of his players, linebacker Larry Foote.

During the lingering lockout, NFL employees are not allowed to communicate with players.

"I can talk to Larry -- just not about football," LeBeau said. "It's not uncomfortable for me because I learned a long time ago not to worry about things that are not in my control."