By: Katy Luchansky*

Workers’ compensation is crucial to people in all fields of work and due to sports glorification by the media, it is easy to overlook the severe injuries that professional athletes endure regularly. Workers’ compensation laws are designed to protect people who are injured in their field of work by providing them with wage replacement benefits if they are temporarily or permanently unable to work because of their injury. The Illinois state legislature is currently working on a bill (Illinois Senate Bill 12) that would decrease the benefits that professional athletes receive after these injuries.[1]

Currently, professional athletes can receive wage differential permanent disability benefits until they are 67, but the proposed bill will reduce this to either age to 35 or 5 years after the injury.[2] This would substantially lower the player’s wage replacement following an injury. Those in favor of the bill argue that this is a fair law because it is rare for a professional athlete’s career to extend much beyond the age of 35 if they were to remain healthy, and thus by being injured, they are earning money that they would not have been entitled to despite the injury.[3]

This potential legislation can have troubling effects on the appeal and success of all six Illinois based professional sports teams, including the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, Fire, and White Sox. While professional athletes earn a relatively high salary compared to most Americans, they also risk high chance of serious injury every game and practice. Injuries can end a playing career and cripple an athlete’s financial security. Long-term financial planning is crucial for professional athletes, and this proposed bill threatens their access to long-term, permanent disability benefits.[4]

While all professional sports are threatened by this bill, the National Football League (“NFL”) is arguably the most effected. Players in the NFL have the highest chances of receiving severe injuries on the field and they also have the least secure contracts because they are allowed to be released after injuries. DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) has come out with a strong stance in opposition of the bill, advising players to avoid going to the Bears if they have the option.[5] Smith, via a press release sent out by the NFLPA, argues that the proposed legislation will have no effect on the Illinois state budget because NFL teams are credited under the salary cap to cover the cost of workers’ compensation.[6]  Rather, the NFLPA points out that the bill only seeks to harm athletes and save professional sports franchises money because it would reduce the payouts to injured players.[7] For example, if both a coach and a player are equally injured on the job to the same extent, the franchise must pay workers’ compensation to the coach until age 67, while the player is cut off at age 35 or 5 years post-injury.[8]

The Bill is currently under review by the Illinois State Senate Committee on Assignments after receiving its second amendment, then it will be up for a third reading on the state senate floor.[9]


*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2019, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

[1] Nathaniel Grow, Major League Baseball and Workers’ Comp, FanGraphs (Feb. 8, 2017),  http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/major-league-baseball-and-workers-comp/.

[2] David Haugh, NFL players’ union fires away at Bears over workers’ comp, but argument is weak, misguided, Chicago Tribune (Feb. 11, 2017), http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/columnists/ct-bears-nflpa-haugh-spt-0212-20170211-column.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Grow, supra note 1.

[6] Press Release, NFL Players Association, The Importance of Workers’ Comp. & Facts About Senate Bill 12 (Feb. 8, 2017), https://www.nflpa.com/importance-workers-comp-illinois-senate-bill-12.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Status of Workers’ Comp. for Accidental Injuries Involving Professional Athletes, Ill. SB0012 (Ill. 2017), http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=0012&GAID=14&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=98855&SessionID=91&SpecSess=&Session=&GA=100.

 

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