Upshaw: NFLPA won't take from current pensions to help ex-players

PHOENIX -- Gene Upshaw said he reads the harsh words and personal attacks from former NFL players seeking improved disability and pension benefits.

That doesn't mean he heeds them.

"Guess what, I've been reading it, and guess what, it doesn't have any effect on what I will do tomorrow, the next day and the next hour," said Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, following his annual Super Bowl news conference today. "It's just like water off a duck's back. It had no effect before and it will have no effect."

The NFLPA will not help former players by dipping into the pensions of current ones, Upshaw said.

The Gridiron Greats, founded by retired Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer to assist ailing former players, is leading an effort to improve disability and pension benefits for retired players. The group contends that red tape and overly restrictive rules are preventing injured former players from receiving benefits they deserve. The group and its supporters also fault Upshaw for not doing enough to help them.

"It's near criminal how some of these guys are being treated," recently retired Kansas City lineman Kyle Turley told reporters at a Gridiron Greats news conference earlier in the day.

NFLPA president and former cornerback Troy Vincent applauded Turley and others for donating money to former players in need.

"The more the better," he said.

Upshaw expressed confidence in reaching a resolution without offering specifics on how to fashion one. He said a resolution will only be reached through civil dialogue, not attacks. And he said progress isn't as simple as his critics might suggest, pushing some of the blame on NFL management trustees who also must approve disability benefits.

"Every dollar in the National Football League is spoken for," the retired Oakland Raiders guard and Pro Football Hall of Fame member said. "Everyone can talk about all of the money we have in the pension plan. We have as much liability as we have assets; in fact, we are a little underfunded.

"But we are not going to take a pension from guys that have one coming and give it to someone else. We have to solve it a different way and we will."

Gridiron Greats board member Mike Ditka, the Hall of Fame tight end and former Bears and Saints coach and current ESPN analyst, said he's madder at the system than any individual. Kramer held Upshaw personally accountable for failing to do enough. So did Turley.

"This is the direct fault of Gene Upshaw, the guys that have come before him and the guys who are with him now," Turley said.

Upshaw claimed his options were limited because rules prevent the NFLPA, by definition a union representing current players, from bargaining directly on behalf of former players.

"The only way that they come in as part of the bargaining unit, the owners have to waive their right," Upshaw said. "What the active players are able to do is take a piece of what we negotiate and give it to the retired players. As a matter of fact, we are giving the active players a lot and I am proud of what the active players are doing."

Kramer wasn't buying it, raising the case of former NFL great Herb Adderly.

"Herb Adderly, one of the reasons I got involved with this project, was getting $125 a month because he had taken an early retirement," Kramer told reporters. "Gene increased to $179 a month, so Herby is in the south of France now."

Upshaw appeared to push some of the blame on players who took early pensions, only to regret their decisions.

"I'm confident that we will [find a solution] and I am also confident that we are moving in the right direction by what we are doing," Upshaw said. "And with that being said, we will wait until the next meeting, we will continue to work at this and some people will be patient and some people will understand, but we cannot make up all the mistakes that players made 30 years ago."

Mike Sando is a senior writer at ESPN.com.