Big holes in the NFL safety net for former players like Bob Zeman

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He says he'd probably do it again, then shrugs as if understanding that is the typical male-ego response. He nods at the recent statement by President Obama that, if he had sons, he'd pause before letting them play football. Zeman has three sons and a daughter and says he never objected to his sons playing — one played four games with the Rams. But he adds that knowing what he knows now, he'd probably say no.

Zeman is a quiet man, soft-spoken. He is from a generation more stoic, less likely to pound on a table. In essence, he spent most of his adult life working for the betterment of the NFL.

As a player, his top salary was $17,000 — the Broncos relented and upped him $2,000 after his All-Pro year. When he played in exhibitions, he was paid $50 a game.

"It was $38 after taxes," he says.

His best salary as an NFL assistant was $180,000 with the Seahawks in 1999, "but they hired me late, so I only got half," he says.

He took his coaching pension in a lump sum and invested it. He now lives off dividends from that, plus Social Security and his player pension. With a recent raise, mostly an NFL public relations gesture, he gets about $2,500 a month from the NFL. If he were a six-year baseball veteran, that would be close to $9,000. Medicare (footed by taxpayers) has taken care of his surgeries. Had he been on a major league baseball roster for just one game, whether or not he played, he would have lifetime medical benefits. The NFL, he says, sends him names of doctors they recommend, all of whom he would pay for himself.

He tried for long-term disability insurance, but the NFL's plan rejected him. "I take pills for blood pressure," he says.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, in his State of the NFL news conference Friday in New Orleans, addressed many topics, including player safety. But his concern was for current players. The old guys are not flying under the NFL's radar. They aren't even on it.

Zeman wants the NFL to pay attention. More likely, it will establish a new program with a fancy name and send out a slickly worded press release.

Zeman and his group want the NFL to remember. The NFL wants them to go away.

No matter. Soon, they will all be dead. The NFL will send out a press release of sympathy.

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