Union Boss Questions DeMarco’s Claim

The Chicago Tribune has learned that the NFL Players Association produced photocopies of seven checks sent on behalf of former player Brian DeMarco for $9,748.81 in the last nine months after DeMarco appeared at a Chicago news conference and on Chicago television Monday to claim he was getting no help from the union for what he called crippling disabilities.  “No one in my office could believe this was the guy they were talking about,” said NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw on Monday night.  “We’ve been taking care of this guy.”  DeMarco, 35, former offensive lineman for Jacksonville and Cincinnati, appeared at Mike Ditka’s restaurant as part of an ongoing effort by “Gridiron Greats” to help retired players in dire need.  Gridiron Greats was started by former Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer, who enlisted Ditka’s help.  While Upshaw pointed to the emergency aid provided DeMarco, Jennifer Smith, executive director of the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, told the New York Times that DeMarco’s main concern was not the emergency assistance the union had provided, but the long-term medical costs that he would incur throughout his life.

“The dire-need funds have nothing to do with long-term disability,” Smith said. “He has sent in four different disability forms that have never been addressed by the NFLPA and we had heard a variety of excuses for what has happened to those forms. Brian has never been assigned an NFL doctor for evaluation for disability, nor has a case file ever been opened for him.”  “This is unacceptable,” Ditka said as he introduced DeMarco, who walked with a cane and needed help getting to the podium.  Neither Ditka nor DeMarco could be reached Monday night.  “I filed for disability three different times,” DeMarco said at the news conference. “Somehow I fell through the cracks. And the third time, I was told I was too late. I have a phone record that shows 128 phone calls to the NFLPA from mid-August of last year to mid-May of this year. In five years of dealing with this disability, I have yet to be seen by an NFL physician.”  But Upshaw said that DeMarco has not applied for disability and disputed the lack of communication.  “He talked to Andre Collins from our office last week when we were at the retired players meeting in Atlanta,” Upshaw said.  “Andre Collins out of his pocket wired him $300 because he said he didn’t know if he could make it the next three days, that his kids were eating peanut butter and jelly and crackers. Andre (NFLPA liaison to retired players) talks to him just about every weekend.”

DeMarco said he and his family have been homeless in recent times.  But Upshaw faxed checks to the Tribune written by the Players Assistance Trust to cover DeMarco’s rent at a place called “The Mansions at Steiner Ranch” in Austin, Texas.  One check was for $2,938 and another for $1,469.  The most recent check was March 5 for $2,420 to a man in San Diego that Upshaw said he believed was for DeMarco’s rent.  “We paid it on an emergency basis because he said he was going to be on the street and had nowhere to go with his family,” Upshaw said.  Accompanied by his wife, DeMarco described Monday morning how he and his family were homeless three times because he could not work. He used up his savings paying medical bills and was uninsurable after suffering 17 fractures in his spine during his career that ended in 2000.  “I am not the only one,” DeMarco said.  “Whether you played in the NFL or not, poverty is poverty.  Extreme poverty is extreme poverty.   Somebody has got to step up to help guys like me.  I have been doing the best I can for the past few years.  There’s guys out there losing their lives, inch by inch, every single day.”  “I don’t need to have press conferences to show what we do for people,” Upshaw said.  “There’s no way I would have revealed any of this until they threw him out there to the public. Last year we paid out $1.2 million to 147 players.  This guy is one of the guys we paid.  This is not all we paid for him.”

Spearheaded by Ditka, Kramer, Joe DeLamielleure and other NFL players, Gridiron Greats has been providing direct financial assistance to needy former players such as DeMarco. Monday’s media event coincided with the launch of a major drive to seek public support and financial contributions.  Ditka also used the occasion to fire back at former Bears safety Dave Duerson, a member of the union’s pension and disability board, who was quoted in a Sunday Chicago Tribune story as being critical of Ditka’s motives and his attention to the players’ well-being.  Ditka questioned Duerson’s credibility and called his charges “an out and out, outrageous lie.”  Ditka also pointed out that his own late father was a union president.  In the meantime, DeLamielleure again took issue with Upshaw, who has dismissed DeLamielleure’s outspoken advocacy for “Gridiron Greats” as misguided and was quoted as threatening him in a recent Philadelphia Daily News article.  “He threatened to break my neck,” DeLamielleure said. “I say that he stunk as a union leader for 20 years.  Screw Upshaw.  He stuck it to us for 20-something years.”

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