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What Does Former Viking Kenechi Udeze Have To Do With The Lockout?

March 30, 2011

I try not to write about the lockout. Frankly, no one is going to completely kill a $9 billion dollar industry, so let me know when the posturing, haggling, and negotiating is over. Then I’ll pay attention to the destruction left in its wake. Because the longer the lockout lasts, the more the consequences — unintended or otherwise — of a prolonged work stoppage will rack up.

Rather than focus on the lockout, I’m more interested in the tangental pieces of an eventual agreement. For example, the NFL’s latest offer included the option for players to continue their health care coverage “after retirement for life.

Whether or not this health care provision will be included in the final agreement remains to be seen, and while the offer seems sweet, the exact details of the plan are still uncertain.

Horrific stories of post-NFL life are well documented, but there are other stories that don’t garner as much coverage. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert recently wrote about former Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze’s post-NFL struggles with the league’s current health care system.

Udeze was forced to retire after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008. He is currently in remission thanks to a bone-marrow transplant, and the 28-year-old knows he is in a better financial situation than most other cancer survivors to handle his plethora of medical expenses. And yet even with the backing of the Vikings’ legal team, Udeze is unable to qualify for the league’s disability insurance because he does not have “total and permanent” incapacity.

And here lies the crux of the problem. If a player like Udeze cannot continue insurance through his former employee, where will he get coverage? As Udeze said himself, if he can’t qualify, who does?

“I’ve had people tell me that if I don’t qualify, who would?” Udeze said. “I just think people have to know and realize what’s out there. As a player, you’re told if you have to retire because of an injury or an illness, there are things the NFL has in place to help you. That’s not the case for everyone.”

Eventually the NFL will strike a bargain with the player’s union/trade association that will likely include extended health care benefits for retirees. Will that deal include players like Udeze? I hope so.

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