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Ditka again blasts NFL players union

He and DeLamielleure step up battle with the group by presenting plight of an ex-lineman.

June 12, 2007|Fred Mitchell and Don Pierson | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — NFL Hall of Fame members Mike Ditka and Joe DeLamielleure continued their war of words with NFL Players Assn. boss Gene Upshaw on Monday, and introduced hobbled former offensive lineman Brian DeMarco, 35, as a prime example of the union's indifference to the medical needs of scores of ex-players.

"This is unacceptable," Ditka thundered at a news conference organized by Gridiron Greats at his Chicago restaurant.

"We are past having committees. It's about right versus wrong. Do the right thing. Just do the right thing."

Spearheaded by Ditka, DeLamielleure and former Green Bay Packers star Jerry Kramer, GridironGreats.org has been providing direct financial assistance to needy former players such as DeMarco, who is unable to work and barely able to function as a result of lingering football-related injuries.

Monday's media event coincided with the launch of a major public donation drive. Ditka also used the occasion to fire back at former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, a member of the player union's pension and disability board, who was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article Sunday as saying Ditka "was not one who [cared] about the players or their injuries when he was coaching. He was very disrespectful of guys who got hurt and now he's trying to champion for a couple of guys. The fact of the matter is he's way off base and he's late in the game."

Ditka called Duerson's charges "an out-and-out, outrageous lie."

Meanwhile, DeLamielleure again took issue with Upshaw, who dismissed DeLamielleure's outspoken advocacy for Gridiron Greats as misguided and was quoted as threatening him in a recent Philadelphia Daily News article.

"He threatened to break my neck," DeLamielleure said. "I say that he stunk as a union leader for 20 years."

Fiery rhetoric aside, the main attraction at Monday's event was DeMarco, who needed a cane and two able-bodied assistants to help him stand up and walk to the podium, where he spoke emotionally about how the NFL and the players union have turned their backs on him after injuries ended his once promising career as a second-round draft pick out of Michigan State.

"My right leg is completely numb. I have extreme nerve pain in my arms," DeMarco said before pausing to gather his emotions. "I have lost my grip ... my ability to hold my kids."

Accompanied by his wife, Autumn, DeMarco described how he and his family were homeless three times because he could not work.

On Monday night, the NFLPA faxed to the Tribune copies of seven checks sent on behalf of DeMarco for $9,748.81 in the last nine months.

"No one in my office could believe this was the guy they were talking about," Upshaw said.

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