Workers’ Comp and Athletes: A Player’s Perspective

There is no question that the game of football is dangerous. National Football League players get injured on the job – so many that Nolan-125x125an “injury report” section is ubiquitous on sports pages. In fact, a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that the risk of death associated with neurodegenerative disorders is about three times higher among NFL players than for the general population.

The truth is that the NFL and its owners have a fundamental responsibility for the health and safety of their players. Assembly Bill 1309, pending before the Assembly Insurance Committee, absolves owners of this responsibility by making it impossible for players to receive workers’ compensation they need and deserve. It is a bad idea.

AB1309 will further line the pockets of pro sports franchise owners – most of whom live outside the state of California.

Let’s clear up some inaccuracies.

One proponent wrote in the Orange County Register ["Pro athletes abuse workers' comp," March 21] that, “this abuse cost the state’s workers’ compensation system millions of dollars.”

Not true. The cost of workers’ compensation for NFL players is not paid by the state of California. The cost is paid out of the considerable billions of dollars generated by the sport. Active players have agreed in their current Collective Bargaining Agreement that the cost of workers’ compensation benefits for all players, both current and former, is to be charged against their salary cap. The result is lower salaries.

I applaud them in this decision.

The proponents have inaccurately said that former Dallas Cowboys player Michael Irvin “received $249,000 from our state.” This is absolutely not true. When Irvin filed his workers’ compensation claim in California, it was a claim for which the Dallas Cowboys, their insurer, and the NFL salary-cap system were fully responsible. Not one dime of Irvin’s settlement was from the state of California.

California is home to three NFL teams and hundreds of professional athletes. They provide an enormous economic benefit to California. Professional athletes paid $162 million in California income taxes in 2010. And that includes income tax from those professional athletes who come into the state just to play one game against a California team.

Meanwhile, the California Insurance Guaranty Association Fund, which was set up to pay workers’ compensation claims left unpaid by defunct insurance companies, has had to pay only $4 million per year for claims made by athletes. Of course, the profits by team owners dwarf the money made by a player.

As a former player and former Orange County resident, I can tell you that, without athletes, the owners would not be entertaining enough to fill stadiums. The athletes continue to suffer from the effects of injuries long after our playing careers are over, and the workers’ compensation benefits are often a lifeline. The NFL and team owners have an obligation to make sure the athletes receive benefits to which they are entitled.

If AB1309 passes, the Legislature will only be helping team owners who live outside California to escape their obligations to the players. It is not fair to attack the players and convert our hard-earned player benefits into owner profits. I’ll say it again. AB1309 is a bad idea.

Nolan Harrison III was an NFL defensive lineman from 1991-2000; he is senior director of former player services for the NFL Players Association.

For more about Nolan click here and follow him on twitter @NolanHarrison74  and @NFLPALegends.

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