CFL Players Association owed to former players

CFL pensioners losing coin toss from union

Players association trying to find hundreds of retirees owed money

Jul 06, 2009 04:30 AM

Scott Radley

HAMILTON – As the former director of education for Hamilton and now the top man in Toronto’s school system, Chris Spence is in the news all the time. So he was a little surprised to discover he was on a published list of retired CFL players owed pension money who couldn’t be found by the players’ association.

“I’m thinking, I’m not hard to find at all,” he chuckles.

Same with former NFL star Dexter Manley who played five games with the Ottawa Rough Riders back in 1993 and 1994. Reached by phone in suburban Washington, he says he’s hardly hiding.

“Just go on Google,” he says. “I’m easy to find.”

Fact is, the CFLPA finally did track both down a couple of months ago. But roughly 900 other former players remain unaccounted for with more than $7 million of their retirement money sitting in limbo. While there are some well-known names like Mike Kerrigan, Mark Gastineau and Manley on the list – you can view it at – many are nearly anonymous guys who played just a game or two in the league and then vanished.

But even those one-game guys made a pension contribution. They may not have even realized it, but when they received their paycheque, the amount required had been deducted. If they’re 55, they’re eligible to receive payments. If they’re younger than that, their share is still there and growing. At no point does it roll into players’ association coffers, even if contact has been lost for decades.

“It could be a few hundred dollars to thousands or tens of thousands,” says John O’Connor, a senior account executive with Manulife who handles the pension. “There are many, many, many players that have less than $1,000.”

Problem is, tracking all these guys down – some who could surely use the money – has been a nightmare for the players’ association. In a league like the CFL that’s airlifted hundreds of players into Canada only to cut them loose shortly after, the folks running the association say keeping track of everyone’s whereabouts is difficult.

A quick Google search on some randomly selected names found a number of them within minutes. But to be fair, most of those so easily discovered had somewhat unique names. Finding guys like Robert Bell, Jeff Brown, Mark Smith, and anyone else with common names takes a lot more digging.

“Every year we find more and more,” O’Connor says. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of work the board has done.”

O’Connor says a number of years ago he received a call out of the blue from Joe Theismann who’d heard he had some money owing.

Association president Stu Laird says the number has now dipped below 900, but more names are added each year. So his organization’s been concentrating on telling players about the pension as often as possible so they all know it’s waiting for them at some point.

Spence knew. Even though he played only one regular-season game in the league. He just never chased his money down because it was such a small amount and he didn’t really need it yet.

Manley heard about it too, but admits that when he was contacted about it a while ago, he didn’t take it seriously thinking it might not be legitimate. Now that he knows, he’s open to receiving the cash.

“I could use it in this tough economic crisis,” Manley says. “Pass on the good message that … I could use that money. If it’s two nickels, I’ll pass it along to charity.”