According to Don Pierson of The Chicago Tribune, a stormy radio exchange between Mike Ditka and Dave Duerson over the NFL Players Association’s treatment of needy former players ended abruptly Tuesday when Ditka hung up on his former safety, who had frequently interrupted him. “I just don’t want you to embarrass yourself in front of Congress,” Duerson, a trustee on the retirement board that oversees disability cases, told his former coach in reference to a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing June 26 on the NFL benefits system.
While appearing on Chicago radio station WMVP-AM 1000’s “Mac, Jurko and Harry” show, Ditka listened to Duerson defend the NFLPA for more than six minutes uninterrupted, including a reference to Ditka’s recently increased pension of $7,857 a month. He was then asked to respond. “It’s very intellectual, a lot of numbers, a lot of stats there,” Ditka said. Then Duerson interrupted, “You called me a liar yesterday.” “Wait, wait,” Ditka said. “Did he ask me, or is he asking you?” Ditka then said he didn’t believe former player Brian DeMarco was allowed to touch his NFL 401(k), containing more than $150,000. DeMarco, 35, appeared at a news conference Monday at Ditka’s restaurant and stated his applications for disability benefits had been ignored. Duerson said he knew for a fact DeMarco could use the 401(k) account to access money.
In addition, Duerson told Ditka he was late in the game, the same charge he made in a Sunday Chicago Tribune interview. “I’m late in the game in what?” Ditka said. “That is ridiculous. You can dislike me and say anything you want to, but you can’t say that. It’s just not fair. “All I’m saying is I’m trying to help these guys, trying to get them some money. Does it come from the players association? Does it come from the owners? I don’t know. If it doesn’t come, don’t worry, fellas, it’s no skin off your nose. You can tell these corporations we try to get it from, ‘These guys are portraying a hoax on you. These guys really aren’t injured.’ ”
Duerson’s statement that the game is so much better off today because of union action brought a sarcastic response from Ditka. “No kidding,” Ditka said. “And it’s because of what? All these great players.” Ditka called the union’s $2.4 billion benefits package a “strike fund.” When Duerson insisted it wasn’t a strike fund, the two talked over each other for a few seconds until Ditka hung up. Before Duerson came on the show, Ditka was asked to respond to Duerson’s assertion in Sunday’s Tribune that the coach didn’t care about his players’ injuries. “If my other players believed that, it would hurt me,” Ditka said. “I’m trying to help guys who are hurt. I’m not trying to blame the NFLPA or (Executive Director) Gene Upshaw or anybody else. Trying to discredit Brian DeMarco, I don’t understand.” Duerson closed the radio segment on a conciliatory note. “I’m glad this conversation is taking place,” he said. “We can’t do enough for retired players.”