While many retired NFL players have joined their current brethren in speaking out against the 18-game season proposed by league owners, that opinion in not shared by Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr.
Now director of athletics at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, Winslow surprised reporters at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards Thursday night at the Renaissance Cleveland hotel when he said he was ''OK'' with the 18-game idea. Winslow, who spent 1979-87 with the San Diego Chargers, said the league has changed since his day, when players needed the preseason to get in shape.
"It's difficult to compare what happened when we played to what's going on today,'' Winslow said. "The biggest difference today is players are full-time players. We were part-time players and that's a difficult concept for people to understand. We had to have five or six weeks of preseason to get in shape. We didn't have facilities like they have today. We didn't make the money where you could not work in the off-season. We would go to 24 Hour Fitness to work out in the off-season because we couldn't get into the weight room. It was being used by the baseball team, whoever the Padres were playing.
"I can't judge whether they should have an 18-game season or not, I just know that it's a different ballgame.''
Winslow said he had many jobs in the off-season during his playing what career, including bank teller and loan officer. He said he worked with apparel and sports drink companies and also went to school.
"It wasn't a month in Hawaii to relax,'' he said. "That's not a criticism against today's player because in many ways they work harder than we did because it is year-round.''
Winslow agreed that the 18-game season would bring an increased risk of injury. But he also looked at the proposal from the fans' perspective.
"If I'm a fan, four preseason games, I'm being ripped off,'' Winslow said. "Fans deserve to get value for the money they're paying.''
Taking management's side in the current negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Winslow said the owners aren't responsible for long-term benefits for players.
"Are you a member of a union? Do you pay your union dues? Does your paper pay your long-term health care? You have a union that negotiates those things, the union provides those things,'' Winslow said. "What's the difference in football? There is none. If they want to give X-amount of dollars from the management side and say 'We're going to apply this to union benefits,' they could do that.
"To expect the owners to be involved in player transition from one career to the next and to expect the ownership to be involved in long-term benefits, then the question is, 'What do you need a union for?' You don't. I think that's what happened under Gene, God rest his soul, we forgot what a union was.'' Winslow was referring to Gene Upshaw, who headed the NFL Players Association from 1983 until his death from pancreatic cancer in August, 2008. Upshaw was succeeded by DeMaurice Smith.
Asked about the unhappiness of some retired players, Winslow said, "Under that previous leadership, what was supposed to happen didn't happen. There was no planning. There was a period of high revenue and low output in services. We have to do something different.''
Winslow said Smith understands the role of the union and expects him to "revamp some things,'' including perhaps cutting ''some fat in the in the union hierarchy.''
"We may have too many people on that side,'' Winslow said. "I can't say, I've been out of it for so long. You've got to get back to the services. You're there to represent the membership. That includes when they're playing and after they're playing.'''
Winslow said he has not voiced his opinion to the union since he retired.
"Who listens to me? It is so clear, it's so obvious,'' he said. "This is not a new model. Unions have been around since 1916 or something like that. You follow the model and apply it to your industry, in this case it happens to be sports.''
Winslow said his son, tight end Kellen Winslow II of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is doing "great.'' The younger Winslow was traded to Tampa Bay in February, 2009 by then-coach Eric Mangini. But Winslow Sr. believes his son would have liked playing for the Browns under president Mike Holmgren, who arrived in December, 2009.
''He likes the organization. He knows who's in charge,'' Winslow Sr. said of his son and the Bucs. "I know he would have liked being with Mike Holmgren. He had a plan the day he walked in here. He's taking his time and executing that plan.
"If he were here and Kellen were still here, it would be a whole different ballgame.''
Asked if Holmgren is good for Cleveland, Winslow Sr. said, "Without a doubt.''