Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D - CA) recently joined me on my radio show. The interview was primarily focused on the October 28th NFL Congressional Hearing and her questioning Commissioner Roger Goodell. We also briefly discussed health care reform and the House Ethics Committee investigating her.
Below are a few excerpts from our conversation.
Bensinger: How satisfied are you with the information provided by the NFL during the hearing?
Waters: I'm not satisfied with the performance of the NFL, Mr. Goodell, in that hearing we just held. I've not been satisfied with them for a long time on the issues of the benefits that are lacking for NFL players, particularly the older players. They never admit anything. They never have straight answers. They come and they're in a defensive mode ... They just dance around the issues.
Bensinger: What is it specifically about their unwillingness to address the issues that really bothers you?
Waters: They obviously have a strategy of not recognizing disabilities. You have many of these older players who are now destitute, who are all broken up, who are living pretty dismal lives. Their injuries are directly related to the years that they played football. ... One NFL player that I mentioned in my testimony had Alzheimer's at fifty [years-old] and died homeless. Well, if they [the NFL] had not fought him on his benefits and he had been able to receive benefits, he may have been able to live another 20 years. They don't want that. They don't want to have to pay benefits for these disabled NFL players for any extended period of time so they fight it. They have sophisticated lawyers that do everything possible from having to accept responsibility.
Bensinger: You did press Commissioner Goodell about how the league was addressing the welfare of retired players during the current collective bargaining negotiations. What changes would you like to see made?
Waters: They need a whole new benefit package. Some time ago when I first started to look at this, my husband, who was an NFL player, had friends who were increasingly becoming disabled. ... I became very familiar with the NFL retirement plan, the Bert Bell Plan. At that time, if you took early retirement, you could not get any disability at all. Remember, most of those players didn't make very much money. After their seven, eight, nine years in the league, when they retired, they took what retirement was offered to them which was very little money. Then, they became disabled maybe five, six, seven years later and they were eligible for nothing because of the way the rules were written. Now what you have is all these older players who are operating under the old rules of the benefits plan. They average probably six hundred or seven hundred dollars a month at the most. They [the NFL] need to go and revisit that. They need to try and compensate them [the former players] in their old age so that they can have a decent quality of life.
Bensinger: To what extent did the Commissioner's failure to acknowledge a connection between head injuries on the football field and later brain diseases remind you of the tobacco companies back in the 1990s denying links between smoking and health damage?
Waters: Very much so. Very much so. And of course we continued to struggle and struggle and struggle until we finally got some justice on that issue. I said to Commissioner Goodell that I really thought we should take away their anti-trust exemption because that is what they really care about. That's where the money is made. I want to convince my colleagues that the only way we're going to get them to pay attention to us is to take away that special exemption that they have.
Bensinger: Health Care. If you had to put yourself in the role of a critic of this [House] bill, what do you think would be pointed out as the downside of it?
Waters: I think we have to be worried about overall cost. Don't forget, we're going to be providing subsidies to some people who work every day but make low wages and can't afford the cost of insurance. ... We're going to have to be very careful that for those people who independently purchase their insurance now -- that we don't do something that's going to cause that to rise. That would be middle class folks who purchase their insurance independently -- we cannot cause their premiums to go up and that's what I'm concerned about. ... I think the cost is what most of us are going to have to be concerned about.
Bensinger: The public learned the House Ethics Committee was looking into you back in September. Some have suggested that the announcement that it voted to establish a subcommittee to investigate you means the committee believes there is sufficient cause. Why do you believe you're being looked into?
Waters: You have to remember that I do operate very strongly on behalf of women and minorities. I setup a meeting on behalf of the National Bankers Association which is the association that represents the minority banks in this country. These small banks don't have access to the treasurer. These small banks don't have access to the regulators. If you're Bank of America, or Wells Fargo, or JP Morgan, or Goldman Sachs -- you walk in and out of the treasurer's office just like you own it. These are all pals. They come from Goldman Sachs. They come into government to work. They protect their old bosses and their old companies. If you are small independent banks, you just don't have access so they come to us and they say, "Will you help me get an ear? I've got to talk." This happened after Freddie and Fannie basically was taken over. A lot of the small banks had their investments in Fannie and Freddie -- the quasi-government agencies. That was supposed to be a safe place for these small banks to invest their money so that they would have the capital that they need in order to do business. Well, after the collapse of Fannie and Freddie and the takeover, they came and I made an appointment for the association. Not for an individual bank. Not for any individual bank, but for the entire association which is acceptable. One of those banks is a bank that we do business with. We have to do business somewhere with some bank. All members do. It just so happens that one of the many banks represented by this association is a bank where my husband had an investment. That's what they're looking at and I feel confident that I'll be exonerated [and] that I'll be dismissed. I hope they take a very thorough look at it. We'll cooperate with them in any way we can. I'm an advocate for small and minority banks and other institutions and I'll just have to continue to do that. That's how I work. That's why I'm there.
Follow Graham Bensinger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/grahambensinger