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Retired NFL player wins benefits dispute

Retired NFL quarterback Anthony L. Wright, who has been scrambling to keep his ex-wife’s hands off his disability benefits, got a favorable ruling earlier this month from the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The court on Aug. 7 unanimously reversed an equitable distribution ruling by Cabarrus County District Court Judge William G. Hamby Jr., who held that Wright’s ex was entitled to a 37.5 percent cut of both his line-of-duty disability payments and total permanent disability payments.

Wright won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants in 2007 and retired two years later after being sidelined by a series of injuries. He now lives in Vanceboro and has been receiving line-of-duty payments, which are given to former players who can no longer play football but are able to work other jobs. He has also applied for total permanent disability.

Hamby had concluded that Wright’s disability benefits were actually more similar to traditional retirement benefits that are intended to compensate for lost future wages and are classified as shared marital property. Because three of Wright’s four football injuries occurred while he was married, Hambly ordered him to split three-quarters of his benefits with his ex.

But Court of Appeals Judge Rick Elmore disagreed, determining that the NFL’s total permanent disability benefits are clearly meant to compensate for disability and therefore are separate property under the Court of Appeals’ 1994 decision in Johnson v. Johnson.

Elmore also found that the record lacked evidence to support Hamby’s determination that Wright had acquired the benefits through marital income or labor.

As for Wright’s line-of-duty benefits, Elmore concluded that Hamby had erred in comparing the payments to a form of deferred compensation “incurred during a very limited term of employment.” He said Hamby’s ruling wrongly focused on the “nature of a career in football or the ability of a typical player to play football after an injury.”

In reversing the ruling and remanding the case, he instructed the lower court to focus this time on the “nature of the wages” being replaced by the line-of-duty benefits.

Wright’s attorney, Matthew W. Ginn in Concord, said the appellate court was clear in ruling that Wright’s ex-wife doesn’t get any of his total permanent disability benefits. But he was unsure as to how the lower court would interpret the line-of-duty benefits on remand.

“In the short term, I’m not sure if it’s a win or not because it hasn’t been determined how this will play out,” he said. “In the long term, I think it’s a win for my client because he’s thinking that he will be deemed to be totally and permanently disabled in the future.”

Wright’s ex-wife, Nicole R. Wright, was pro se on appeal and could not be reached for comment.

The 13-page decision is Wright v. Wright, Lawyers Weekly No. 12-07-0831. The ruling can be found at



Case name: Wright v. Wright

Court: N.C. Court of Appeals

Judge: Judge Rick Elmore, with Martha A. Geer and Cressie H. Thigpen Jr. concurring

Attorneys for plaintiff: Pro se

Attorney for defendant: Matthew F. Ginn (Concord)

Issue: Does an ex-NFL player have to share his disability benefits with his wife?

Holding: He doesn’t have to share any total permanent disability payments he may receive. As for his temporary line-of-duty benefits, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision awarding a portion of those payments to his ex. On remand, it instructed the lower court to focus on the nature of the wages being replaced by the line-of-duty benefits.

Potential effect: Courts should treat NFL totally permanent disability benefits as a spouse’s separate property. Also, the courts should not assume that NFL line-of-duty benefits are similar to deferred compensation that is received in more traditional occupations and is considered to be shared marital property.


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