NFL Player retirees: Gary Knafelc says the league wants them to ‘die off?’


Former NFL players who played in the 1950s and 1960s are dying off … something the former Packer Gary Knafelc said the league wantss

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Gary Knafelc is a pre-1970s NFL player who is among those who he says will “die off” soon – something the league and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), he emphasizes can’t see soon enough.

He is among those older players who feel left without any support and resent it. They feel the NFL and the players association has done nothing to help him and the players of his era.

In a recent interview with NBC 26 in Green Bay, the 81-year-old Knafelc had this to say:

“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. I’m not kidding at all. No, I’m very serious about that.”

After nine seasons with the Green Bay Packers and many years as the Packers public address announcer, Knafelc has spent nearly his entire working life with the team and would do it all over again at the same rate of pay.

All he wants is to be recognized and to receive a portion of the billions the league rakes in every year. He was part of the 1950s and 1960s era that helped build the game to what it is today.

“The NFL Players Association has to step up and protect us, and they don’t do that,” he said. “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.”

While that may be true, there are even a bigger issues looming in the courts that Knafelc doesn’t mention. One case involves the use of images of the retired players by the NFL without compensation.

The original case was brought by Fred Dryer, Elvin Bethea, Jim Marshall, Dan Pastorini, Joe Senser and Ed White and while the NFL announced the establishment of a $42 million common-good fund to help retired players, it has resulted in a division among the former players. One might consider it a divide and conquer tactic by the league. The fund was developed by the league to help the retired players find health care, housing and jobs, and to set up a licensing agency to promote the sale of the images of groups of players.

But for the original six plaintiffs, it’s not enough and is a slap in the face of every retiree. Despite the fact that former players such as Jim Brown, Reggie McKenzie, and Lem Barney have endorsed the NFL’s plan, the original plaintiffs say that it’s unclear whether the $42 million offered is fair. Apparently nobody’s had the opportunity to see what NFL Films is worth. Not only that, but as part of the deal the retired players would have to give up any future rights to their images, while it’s unclear just who would benefit from the common-good fund. Not all retired players would be guaranteed inclusion.

Maybe Knafelc is right about the higher-ups wanting them to go away. Even the judge, Paul Magnuson of the United States District Court in Minnesota – who will eventually decide the outcome – has had harsh words for the original plaintiffs:

"“It bears repeating: the individuals who originally brought this lawsuit and who now oppose the settlement rode into court on the banner of saving their downtrodden brethren, those who had played in the N.F.L. yet today were penniless and, often, suffering from injuries or illnesses directly related to their playing days,” Magnuson stated in his approval of the settlement last April. “It is the height of disingenuousness for these same plaintiffs to now complain, like children denied dessert, that the settlement does not benefit enough the individuals who brought the lawsuit.”"

Not only is it possible for the retirees to go along with the settlement because time is running out on them and they feel they need the relief now, but because there really isn’t any way to determine this isn’t a good deal. Their eventual agreement may be based on the fact that any money is better than no money.

And if they don’t do it soon, the retirees may find themselves continuously delayed in the courts while they slowly die – the fact that Knafelc said is indeed happening.

Bear also in mind that this is just one of the huge cases looming between the NFL and former players. We haven’t even mentioned the concussion case that is another class action where the players are arguing the league didn’t inform them of the life-changing effects of concussions.

The complexity of these cases is for the courts to decide … actions that might take years. Many like Knafelc will probably never see any benefits, if the courts do indeed rule in favor of the retired players.

Knafelc right. They may have all died off by then.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do it again: “Dumb as I am, I’d do it again for the same money if I could.”