Ditka touts funds for disabled NFL players

By Don Babwin

CHICAGO – Former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka brought together his charity work and harsh criticism of the NFL Thursday, announcing a golf tournament and autograph show to raise money for former players who are needy and sometimes destitute.

Flanked by former players, Ditka lashed out at the NFL for doing too little to help players whom he said helped build the league.

Ditka, a former Hall of Fame player, said that the charity event will raise money both for the former players as well as an area residential facility for people with developmental disabilities.

“It’s not about embarrassing the league or anybody, it’s just about doing what we think is right,” he said at his downtown restaurant.

But Ditka was clearly trying to draw attention to what organizations like his Mike Ditka Hall of Fame Assistance Trust and another called Gridiron Greats are doing – and the NFL and the players’ union are not.

“There’s so much money out there to take care of these guys,” he said after the news conference. “I have no idea what goes through people’s minds that they’re reluctant to take care of these people.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said on Thursday that the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell are working actively on the issue.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association have also said that the pensions for older players are climbing. In June, they agreed to allow former players who qualified as disabled under the Social Security system to be considered disabled under the NFL-NFLPA system.

Ditka has been a vocal critic of the NFL and the players’ association disability system.

He and other former players have testified before Congress about players who suffered crippling injuries that required multiple surgeries and even amputations, or who suffer from brain damage they attribute to concussions they received while playing.

Earlier this month, Ditka, a Hall of Famer, did not attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and said he would not attend another one until the league and the union improve their treatment of disabled players.

One of those who turned to Ditka’s trust for help was former Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass, who recently received money from the trust to help pay for cancer treatments because he did not have any insurance.

“It’s just like the police or firemen help their union people, their associates,” said Douglass, after appearing with Ditka with at the news conference.

“There isn’t any reason why the players of today or whomever, when they’re making that kind of money wouldn’t want to give a certain amount to the assistance of other players.”