Chicago Bears pushing Illinois Senate Bill that dramatically cuts players WC benefits.

There were some fireworks a week or so ago when the President of the NFL Players Association[“NFLPA”]DeMaurice Smith went after the Chicago Bears for the club’s support of Senate Bill 12 SA #2. The bill would have a huge impact on Workers’ Comp benefits paid out to injured athletes. 12 SA #2 is sponsored by Christine Radogno[R-Lemont] and would adjust certain provisions of the Workers Compensation Act as it applies to professional athletes. Specifically, the bill precludes professional athletes from securing wage differential awards after the age of 35. Wage differential awards come into play when a worker suffers a serious injury that prevents him or her from returning to pre-injury employment. If that occurs, the injured employee is entitled to 2/3 of the difference between what the employee would have made[assuming no injury] at the old job and whatever the injured worker earns in a new position. And, currently, the Act allows the lost income benefits to be paid to the injured employee until age 67.

The proposed bill would exempt professional athletes from recovering wage differential awards after 35. The backers of the bill argue that professional athletes rarely play beyond 35[don’t tell Tom Brady] so paying out on the award until age 67 is unfair and too expensive. The Bears[along with the Hawks, Cubs, Whites Sox and Bulls] maintain that statistically, a professional athlete will be done playing before he or she hits 30.

Richard Gordon, a lawyer and lobbyist for the NFLPA argues that professional athletes generate untold millions of dollars for team owners. And, Gordon argues, the injured athlete will may suffer injuries that plague them for the remainder of their lives. For example – Dick Butkus, pictured in his playing days above and now in his 70’s – still has a noticeable limp due to knee injuries he suffered while playing for the Bears. And consider the Bears approach in light of the growing list of players diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy[“CTE”]. The damage done by CTE might not be discovered for years after a player retires. Finally, Gordon points out that a significant percentage of professional athletes aren’t millionaires[i.e. minor league baseball players] and the bill would unduly prejudice those athletes that suffer debilitating injuries but never make big money.

This issue is becoming a hot button topic throughout the country as a number of states bar or restrict professional athletes from wage differential awards.

Smith insisted that if the bill passes the NFLPA will tell free agents to avoid the Bears and pursue contracts with teams in states where the Workers’ Comp laws are more favorable. Ouch. The Bears, on their own, have given free agents plenty of reasons to avoid Chicago. The absolute last thing the Bears need is a red flag from the NFLPA.