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NFL Union Defending Dead Player

September 18, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The NFL players’ union, taking up the case of the late Leon Bender, wants the Oakland Raiders to pay the player’s family the balance of his $1.2 million signing bonus.

Bender, the 31st pick in the NFL draft in April, died May 30 in Marietta, Ga., at the home of an associate of his agent. An autopsy revealed he died a natural death related to a seizure disorder that had shadowed him for years.

Bender was paid $600,000 of the bonus when he signed a five-year, $3.45 million contract shortly after the draft. The rest was due Tuesday, but the Raiders did not make the payment to Bender’s estate.

Having heard from the Raiders that the money wasn’t forthcoming, the NFL Players Association took up the matter and field a grievance Sept. 10. The deadline for the Raiders’ response was Friday.

The Raiders did not return calls seeking comment. If the team disputes the payment, the grievance will be heard by an arbitrator, probably within six months.

NFLPA lawyer Richard Berthelsen said the union’s case was based on contract language stating that the bonus would not be paid only if Bender ``refuses to perform the services.″

``To me, that would constitute a conscious act,″ Bethelsen said.

But Berthelsen said there was also a deeper issue, an obligation to Bender’s widow and 2-year-old daughter, Imani.

``What is the right thing to do here?″ Berthelsen said. ``I think that’s a better question to ask.″

The grievance contends the team even threatened to take back the original $600,000 if Bender’s family pursued the matter.

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