More pension coverage sought for ex-NFLers

By most accounts, the NFL lockout may be over in a matter of days. Owners and players are said to be near agreement on a new contract. They're also said to be working on a deal to provide up to a billion dollars in benefits to retired players. As CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports, thousands leave the game with serious health problems, and little money.

For two seasons, George Visger gave pretty much everything he had to the NFL, until his playing career was cut short by a major concussion and brain surgery.

"Major headaches every night, projectile vomiting -- I would get these big balls of light in my eyes," said Visger.

He is one of nearly 6,000 former players left on the sidelines, as NFL owners and the players association negotiate a new labor and benefits contract.

"Two years in the NFL, what do you get?" asked Blackstone.

"Nothing," said Visger.

"No pension?"

"Nothing."

"You're not vested," commented Blackstone.

"No," said Visger. "Very few guys are, and those that are draw next to nothing."

Retired NFLers join lockout talks; Deal close?

To collect benefits...players must have been in the league for four years. But just half of the 13,000 retired players are eligible for pension and disability coverage.

Although Visger was on the San Francisco 49ers team that won the Super Bowl in 1982, he had to battle the team for five years to cover his medical expenses for nine surgeries. Brain damage has left him with severe short term memory loss. He uses notepads to write down almost every minute of his life.

On Tuesday, representatives of former players like Visger joined the NFL contract negotiations to try and expand coverage to more retirees.

Former offensive lineman Gordon Wright has been in a 30-year dispute with the NFL over his pension eligibility. He and his wife have struggled to pay medical bills to treat injuries he sustained on the gridiron.

"It does not make sense not to take care of the people who took care of you and the game," he said.

"They owe my husband," said wife Dora Wright. "I'm angry with them because they won't accept the fact they owe him and they won't give him his pension."

Gordon Wright grew up with John Mackey, the NFL legend who recently died due to complications from dementia. He fears brain damage suffered on the field will shorten his life too.

"I cried," he said, "because we grew up together...and he was a tough guy."

George Visger now spends an hour or so almost every day in a hypobaric chamber breathing pure oxygen. He says it's helping his memory...but he's still waiting for help from the game that put him here.

"It's criminal and it's sinful," he said. "We're not asking for anything other than what we earned."

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.