Gary Knafelc played 10 years in the NFL and spent nine of those with the Green Bay Packers (1954-62). He was a pretty decent pass catcher in a day when tight ends didn’t catch a lot of passes.
His best season came in 1955, when he caught 40 balls for 613 yards in 12 games. Today, he’s a member of the Packers Hall of Fame. He’s also really pissed off.
Knafelc is fighting the NFLPA for medical benefits for players from his era, many of whom struggle physically and have to rely on the kindness of others to pay their medical bills. From the sound of it, he isn’t getting anywhere.
“We don’t have a voice, and I really believe the reason that we don’t have a voice is that they’re hoping that if we keep dying off at the rate we are, we’ll be all dead and they won’t have to worry about anything,” he said.
“I’m not kidding at all,” he added. “I’m very serious about that.”
Even though the NFLPA was established in 1956, it wasn’t recognized by the NFL until 1968 when the first collective bargaining agreement was signed. Knafelc goes a step further, suggesting the league doesn’t care about anyone who played before 1970, which is when the league merged with the AFL.
“The NFL Players Association has to step up and protect us, and they don’t do that,” he explained. “All they care about is the current players and the guys that played after 1970. The ones that played prior to that, they’ve kind of just forgotten entirely.”
Are we surprised by any of these claims?
The NFL has only recently begun to focus on injuries (and preventing them). Frankly, guys who played in Knafelc’s days played through a lot of injuries because that’s what men did and coaches expected of then.
Knafelc isn’t the first player from his era to draw attention to the current state of those players either. Plenty of guys — Jerry Kramer comes to mind — have held fundraisers to make money to help former players with medical bills.
And you can see examples of what Knafelc is talking about everywhere.
Former Packers running back Travis Williams has probably the saddest of those stories. His career ended prematurely in 1972 because a knee injury. Williams was homeless for many years after his career ended and died in 1991, one month after he became eligible for his $300 monthly check from the NFLPA pension fund.
What did the NFLPA ever do to help him? I’d say jack shit.
While I’m sympathetic for older folks with lots of medical bills, I do not sympathize with ANY pro athlete that makes 100 times what I do, then whines about money. Ain’t happening.
Guys who played in the 50s make a fraction of what guys do now. The NFL wasn’t a billion dollar business then.
read a great Packers book – hell a great football book – Jerry Kramer’s “Instant Replay”. It is a “diary” of the 1967 season & He discusses contracts a good bit. The pittance those guys played for is a shame, man. Almost all of them needed to have a job in the offseason to get by. They were just starting to pay the “stars” in 1967. Guys crippled themselves by playing through injuries and concussions were just “getting your bell rung”. No big deal. I agree with Knaflec, the old NFL players are getting a hose job by the current greedy owners and the NFLPA as well.
My boss had the chance to go pro in the late 60’s. He went into business because it paid better. It’s not the same situation now as it was then.
1. When asking for a handout, whether you deserve it or not, you are likely to meet with frustration. That is reality.
2. Do you know what my employer will be doing for me after I retire? Nothing.
3. When you retire from football at 35, its time to get a job like the rest of us.
4. If you are too banged up to get a job, there is this thing called “disability.” Check it out.
5. Guess what? The NFLPA, made up of current players, only gives a shit about current players. SHOCKER!!!!!!
6. The NFL holds its money tighter than a X-gamer holds his pocket rocket.
7. Knafelc is only partially right. The NFL and NFLPA wants his generation to die QUIETLY.
8. In a word- Medicare.
As usual, spot on in most cases, though I think the points regarding Medicare and Disability deserve an addendum: If one is receiving these forms of welfare assistance, they are living significantly below the poverty line, additionally Medicare will likely not pay for the entirety of the myriad of drugs required to render the everyday travails quasi-manageable.
This would make a good opinion piece, Iltarion.
Dudes played way harder, shook off more shit, played through more pain and showed up every fucking day to get the shit kicked out of ’em for $10K a year. Then they worked the off-season hawking cars, insurance or real estate, only to come back and do it all over again for the love of the game, the adulation and whatever inner forces compelled them.
Yeah, a lot of the economics was relative to the times all the way around (imagine trying to build the entire Interstate system today for $114 billion), but the short fact is that these dudes didn’t have access to anything more than half-assed ‘team doctors’ whose primary responsibility was to tell the coaches so and so was good to go. So many of these guys wear the evidence today of band-aid patches for blown motors.
I empathize with the plight of the players of this era. It is somewhat akin to the fate of the great R&B and soul acts of the 60’s that paved the way for so much of the rock n roll acts (and the riches) that followed – planted the seeds, but didn’t get the memo about harvest time.
OK, who stole Savage’s username?
I’m torn on this one.
While I’d like to see these guys get taken care of, they willingly “chose” to run full speed into grown-ass men, again, and again. They did it for love of the game, notoriety and tail among other things. When they were slaying the ‘tang, I doubt they were thinking about their health in fifty years, and I doubt the league ever promised them anything. That being said, the league is where it is today because of these old bastards.
Life’s a bitch like that. Those guys played harder and through more injuries and pain than a lot of players today. It’s gotta be frustrating to see players make millions of dollars when you were the one helping build the game forty or fifty years ago. But times were different back then. Sad, but that’s reality.
Dude looks like Clint Eastwood.