With NFL training camps about to begin and players looking ahead to the season, former Giants defensive end George Martin sat in his office overlooking the Newark and New York skylines with an eye toward those who no longer are playing the game. Especially the ones who are hurting in one way or another.
"We know a vast number of former players, for a variety of reasons, fall on hard times," Martin said Wednesday shortly after dedicating the new offices of the NFL Alumni Association. Martin, a member of the Giants' 1986 Super Bowl champions, is the executive director of the organization. "It's more than people realize, and we want to advocate for a better quality of life for our constituents."
For a long time after Martin's 14-season NFL career ended in 1988, he was involved on a less formal basis helping many former teammates who had financial problems after their careers ended. But now, his mission is much more far-reaching, with a chance to assist the nearly 4,000 members who belong to the organization.
The association, which was formed in the 1960s, has changed its focus to concentrate on post-career issues for NFL players.
"The problems the former players experience are more than most people realize," Martin said. "The biggest misconception out there is that if you're a former pro athlete and you retire, you're living on a golf course the rest of your life. We know that's not the case. You look at issues facing our constituents today, and you see people dealing with the aftereffects of concussions, joint replacements, arthritic pain. These are things that need to be addressed urgently."
Martin's group has the backing of commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been outspoken in his desire to improve benefits for former players. Although the league remains at odds with the NFL Players Association, which also has a retired players group, Goodell believes the league's relationship with the NFL Alumni Association can help the league and the former players.
"The real focus here is with the retired players," Goodell said Wednesday. "We want an organization that is advocating for us and for the retired players. We all stand on the shoulders of the people that came before us, and those retired players are some of the people we want to make sure we reach out to."
Goodell is especially mindful of what today's players will go through after retirement, particularly with the increased emphasis on concussion awareness.
"All of the attention is good, because it brings a greater awareness, not only in the NFL, but every other level of football and every other sport," he said. "Concussions are not unique to football and we believe we can make a difference in the treatment of concussions for sports and people outside of sports."
Goodell made his remarks outside an Alumni Association office named after John Mackey, the Colts' Hall of Fame tight end who suffers from dementia because of repeated head trauma as a player. Mackey's experience led to the creation of the "88 plan," named after Mackey's number. It provides $88,000 a year for nursing home care and up to $50,000 annually for adult day care for former players with dementia-related problems.
"We're all aware of the dangers of concussion, and we want to be in position to help," Martin said. "It's a big concern among today's players, and it's a very big concern among the retired players. It's our mission to help those and other players suffering from a variety of problems, especially in today's economy."
Helping others is nothing new for Martin. In addition to his years of assisting fellow players, Martin walked across the United States - a 3,003-mile trek from the George Washington Bridge to San Diego - to raise more than $2 million for rescue and recovery workers assisting in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
He will approach his latest challenge with similar dedication. Good for Martin. Better for those who will benefit from his help.