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NFL, NFLPA ordered to give more answers on disability

WASHINGTON -- A House committee that criticized the NFL's
retiree benefit system ordered the league and the players' union
Friday to turn over information on football injuries, the
disability and retirement system and what's being done to help
battered and broken retirees.

The House Judiciary Committee has arranged for the Congressional
Research Service, an investigative and research unit, to conduct an
independent study of those questions as well, committee leaders
said in letters to the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

"Several members of the committee have suggested that Congress
should intervene to fix what has been described as a broken system
of delivering disability benefits to former NFL players," a letter
from Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said.
"The CRS study will provide the essential facts to help us
consider what steps, if any, Congress could take on this issue in
the future."

Conyers is the committee chairman and Smith is the ranking GOP member.

"It is common for former players to suffer lingering injuries
from their playing days," Conyers said. "I am greatly concerned
that many of those most debilitated by their injuries are finding
it difficult to receive disability benefits."

Added Smith: "I am hopeful that the NFL and NFLPA will get
their own house in order without any help from Congress."

The NFL and the union have until Oct. 26 to turn over the
information and answer the committee's questions. The panel has not
decided whether to hold additional hearings, a spokeswoman said.

Retired football players have been openly critical of the NFL
and the players' union over the amount of money that older retirees
get from a $1.1 billion fund set aside for disability and pensions.

In congressional testimony, retired NFL players have told
sympathetic lawmakers about the multiple surgeries, mental
illnesses and other problems many suffer after years of playing the
violent sport, all the while trying to fight through the red tape
of the NFL and NFLPA's disability system.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended their system in a
September Senate hearing, saying the NFL is boosting benefits when
many companies around the country are reducing them. But he
acknowledged that there have to be ways to improve.

Gene Upshaw, director of the players' union, told the
Senate that Congress should give the NFLPA greater
authority to approve disability claims.

The players' union wants Congress to change federal law so it
has more power on the retirement board that reviews disability
claims. Under current law, the union can only name three retired
former players to the board. NFL owners appoint the other three
representatives.

The union is also asking Congress to tweak worker compensation
laws and eliminate some of the layers of bureaucracy that make it
harder for claims to be honored.