The NFL Players Association has become aware of a letter circulated by team owners that suggests the pending legislation targeting the workers’ compensation of Illinois professional athletes is “no big deal.” First, and foremost, if it wasn’t a big deal, there would hardly be the need for new legislation that only targets professional athletes. So let’s just deal with the facts:
- State Senate Bill 12, which was introduced by State Senator Christine Radogno as part of the state budget compromise, unfairly limits the ability of all professional athletes in Illinois to receive the same workers’ compensation benefits as every other citizen in Illinois. There is no good reason to treat professional athletes differently from other employees who get injured on the job.
- This is NOT a state budget issue. The proposed legislation will have no impact on the Illinois budget, which is how club owners and Senator Radogno are trying to sneak this bill through.
- Currently, every worker has the right to file and receive lost-wage benefits, which has NO impact on tax payers in the state.
- This bill is a “BIG DEAL” for professional athletes because it cuts off benefits to injured athletes at either age 35 or five years after the date of injury, whichever is later. All other injured employees in Illinois are provided with injury benefits up to age 67.
- For example: A 23-year-old rookie running back is tackled into the sidelines in his first pre-season game, striking a 23-year-old coach. Both employees suffer career-ending injuries. Under the proposed language in SB 12, the outcome of their wage differential recovery would be completely different. The coach would have access to benefits through age 67, but the rookie would see his capped at age 35. This is unfair, unreasonable and unnecessary. Why is the player punished and his co-employee is provided full benefits? This does nothing to lower the state budget since workers’ compensation is paid for by the private employer.
- The Chicago Bears - like every NFL team - receive a credit under the salary cap to cover the cost of their workers’ compensation costs. That means that current NFL PLAYERS actually pay for this benefit.
- Every employer, including and ESPECIALLY professional sports teams, are required by law to provide workers’ compensation benefits for injured employee claims.
- If the clubs - and in particular the Bears - were actually interested in "changing" the system to help players, then they should work with the players through collective bargaining instead of using their political clout to hurt athletes by lobbying the state legislature.
- We call on the NFL to stop the Chicago Bears from using the state legislative system to change our collectively bargained system.
- Claiming this is a "wage-differential issue*" is a dangerous distraction. The workers’ compensation system is designed to help all employees receive lost wages and medical care in the event of a workplace injury. Taking away either of those benefits is essentially changing the entire right, which is harmful to all workers everywhere and can lead to a change in the rights of employees in other professions.
- The NFLPA has a duty to inform its players about the consequences of state legislation and the manner in which teams fairly (or unfairly) treat the injuries that we know they will suffer. Accordingly, we will always advise players as to how they should evaluate issues like this in choosing the teams for whom they may want to work when they become free agents.
- The Bears in their “letter” to the Senate note, “we have reviewed the proposed amendment to Section 8(d)(2) of the Illinois Workers Compensation Act” and note they “express[ed] their full and complete support of the proposed amendment”, which certainly is not too surprising since they wrote the bill and are asking the Senator to advance it. This is merely an attempt by the owners of these clubs to use the state legislature to save money on injured employee-athletes when no other employer in the state is being given such a break, and with no apparent justification for such a cost-saving measure. Indeed, these teams are financially secure and can afford to pay what all other employers are required to pay in Illinois.
For these reasons and others, we call on State Senator Christine Radogno to pull Illinois Senate Bill 12.
*Wage differential is the difference between the average salary one could earn pre-injury versus the average salary one could earn in a suitable employment or business after the injury. With 4,900 reportable injuries suffered by NFL players last year, the profession’s high risk are why athletes need these benefits more than anyone.
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