NORMAN — Jim Arnold lived the American football dream. He played for his hometown Dalton, Ga., high school, earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt University and went on to an All-Pro NFL career as a punter.
But now that he’s 50 and marking time until he qualifies for his NFL pension, he’s restless over the outcome of the contract dispute between owners and players -- and what it might mean to retired players.
Arnold believes today’s highly-paid players owe it to those “who came before them and set this up for them” to negotiate a deal that takes care of NFL retirees.
He said fans do not understand that former players who qualify for an NFL pension do not receive the full benefit until they turn 65 and that most of them do not live to that age.
“We’re losing about 130 retired players each year. They’re dying,” said Arnold. “The average mortality rate for an NFL player is 55.
“We’ve had some Hall of Fame players who died, and because of their medical bills, they’ve left a huge burden with their families. Part of that is the NFL has not paid for disability.”
Arnold said the retired veterans are not looking for a handout.
“We don’t want pity or sympathy,” he said. “We want what’s due us.”
Arnold played 12 seasons (1983-1995) in the NFL, with the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins. He was an All-Pro selection twice and had a career 42.3 yards per punt average.
Arnold said the NFL Players Association is not a “true union” if it does not include health and retirement benefits for former players in the current negotiation.
“I hope we get things resolved and get a full season,” he said. “Not just for all the businesses associated with it, but for the fans who love to watch it.”
But if the conflict is not resolved soon, he added, there’s an opportunity for a handful of star former players to make a point by declining to participate in the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony later this month in Canton, Ohio.
Those players to be inducted could say, “Sorry guys. We’ll come back to our Hall when y’all get things back on track,” said Arnold.
But Arnold, who works for an online football website in Nashville, Tenn., admitted he does not expect this to happen.