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Gorman: Mundy in middle of NFL lockout

| Friday, March 25, 2011

The NFL lockout is being portrayed by many, including President Obama, as a battle between millionaires and billionaires more interested in their own greed than the good of the game.

That logic, however, fails to account for players trapped in the middle of the antitrust lawsuit known as Brady, et al. v. National Football League, those players the NFL superstars are supposedly fighting to protect.

"To say that it's 'millionaires vs. billionaires,' to say that we're just fighting over money," Steelers safety Ryan Mundy said, "is not fair to both sides."

It's especially not fair to Mundy, not yet a millionaire.

"That, too," he said. "We're all being lumped into a category. Football players already have enough stereotypes. That's one more added to the list."

Mundy doesn't want to be the face of the NFL lockout, nor does he want serve as a spokesman for the players. He's a former sixth-round pick with two years of service in the league — a backup, for crying out loud.

Yet Mundy is precisely what's wrong with the "millionaires v. billionaires" mentality. He represents the majority of NFL players and is a voice of reason at a time when Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall — former first-round picks worth millions before they played a down — have compared the lockout to slavery.

Mundy is no stranger to not knowing when or where his next check is coming from. As a rookie, the Woodland Hills graduate was released by the Steelers after being injured in a preseason game and later signed as a member of their practice squad. Mundy made the veteran minimum of $395,000 last season, plus another $101,000 in playoff and Super Bowl XLV bonuses. He's not poor, but he's also not rich.

Not that any of us would mind making a half-million dollars before taxes.

Mundy is a prime example of why football fans should pull for the players. He's engaged to be married in April 2012 and would like to keep Pittsburgh as his hometown. But his two-year contract has expired and, although Mundy is optimistic he will re-sign with the Steelers, he has no guarantees. That's why he has put off a search to buy a home or condominium here.

"It's hard to do that, knowing there's a potential that I won't get paid this year," Mundy said. "Then there's a possibility of games getting cut or me not working. The banks already are leery of working with athletes because of the lockout, so I didn't even apply. I know how that application process goes. You need proof of income to start. I don't have proof of income because currently I'm not under contract. ...

"That's like a double whammy."

On top of that, Mundy is not yet vested for a pension. Under the rules of the old collective bargaining agreement, which expired earlier this month, an NFL player needed three years and three games to qualify for five years of health insurance after his playing career.

Who knows what the next CBA will bring?

"Just having that cloud of uncertainty, it's definitely not fun. I'm not sure if I'm going to be paid next year or if I'm going to even be able to play," said Mundy, who is eligible to tap into an NFL Players Association lockout fund believed to be up to $60,000 per player. "That's what this is all about, really. The guys just want to play football. We just want to be treated fairly. The money is not why we play. We play because we love football."

Mundy loves football so much that he's willing to sacrifice his body as a hunter on the Steelers' kickoff coverage, lining up inside and often trying to break the wedge. The NFL rules change announced this week moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line from the 30 in an effort to reduce high-speed collisions probably won't minimize the punishment he takes. Coaches will devise ways to circumvent the rules or their intent if it benefits their team.

When the NFL outlawed the three-man wedge, for example, the New York Jets used two, two-man wedges, Mundy said.

"Teams are going to get more creative. The game is always going to be violent and have collisions. That's just the nature of football," Mundy said. "Football is a game of assumed risks. ... We all know what can happen. This isn't our first year playing the game. We would just like to know that we are taken care of, that we're protected with health care."

That's what the battle should be about between the millionaires and billionaires, protecting those in the game who are neither.

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