Ditka, others continue to plug away at NFLPA head

Former head coach Mike Ditka testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the NFL Retirement System in Washington in this Sept. 18 file photo. Ditka again criticized the NFLPA on Thursday. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, SUSAN WALSH

AP

Former head coach Mike Ditka testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the NFL Retirement System in Washington in this Sept. 18 file photo. Ditka again criticized the NFLPA on Thursday. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, SUSAN WALSH

By Don Babwin

CHICAGO – Mike Ditka and other former pro football players kept up their attack on the NFL Players Association on Thursday.

Led by the Hall of Famer, they again criticized the union for what they claim is a strategy to discredit disabled retired players trying to get disability benefits.

“These people got in front of Congress and lied, actually lied to Congress and said, ‘We’re going to try to fix this system,”‘ Ditka said at a news conference, referring to last month’s appearance before Congress by players association executive director Gene Upshaw.

Upshaw asked Congress for greater authority to improve disability claims, saying the union is now limited in what it can do.

But then, said Ditka, “Two weeks after being in front of Congress they come out and they attack the individuals.”

The NFL Players Association recently posted on its Web site a page titled “The NFLPA Truth Squad: Facts vs. Fiction” that explains it will “correct serious misstatements of fact.” The union identifies former players and disputes some of the statements they have made that have been reported in the media.

On Thursday, union spokesman Carl Francis defended the page, saying via e-mail: “While the NFLPA would prefer not discuss any individual cases, when a player makes false or misleading statements about the facts of his case, we believe the NFLPA has no other option but to respond and correct the record.”

Ditka, said the “Truth Squad” is part of a union effort to avoid paying for disability benefits.

“If the NFL and the players association don’t have the courage to do the right thing to fix this system, I really believe it is the responsibility and obligation of Congress to step in and tell them to do it,” Ditka said Thursday.

At Thursday’s news conference, former players recounted how they suffered crippling injuries and now live with excruciating pain.

“I’ve had seven spine surgeries, I need a hip replacement, I fall asleep during the day, I suffer from vertigo and have a memory problem,” said Dave Pear, who said he’s been told he doesn’t qualify for disability.

Ditka said he wants a panel of medical experts established to “evaluate honestly and fairly whether these men are disabled or not.”