Friday, October 25, 2013

A Cheap Shot at Injured Professional Athletes

One thing I can say for California political leadership-it knows on which side its bread is buttered. Employees (i.e. voters, who outnumber manager voters by a considerable margin) have one of the most friendly legal environments in the country as result of California political largess. But the entertainment industry, long a source of California revenue, prestige, and political donations, has usually enjoyed a privileged spot with respect to California labor laws, employment rules, and the like.

And by entertainment industry, I'm including the National Football League, and professional sports teams generally. California has three NFL teams, four NBA teams, three NHL clubs, and five Major League Baseball teams. And that doesn't even include USC with its questionable amateur athletes.  Professional sports puts up a lot of ticket sales, television revenue, parking, and a much high-powered athletic talent to show up at your party, fundraiser, and film premiere. So it's perhaps not too surprising that the state recently modified its workers compensation law, one of the most generous in the nation, to cut off claims from retired athletes who did not work for California-based teams, but played some of their games in California. Specifically, because California's liberal standard allows workers to get compensation for accumulated trauma (that is, injuries that resulted from repetitive stress or impacts over a long period), approximately 4500 NFL players who played games in the state are filing claims for workers compensation under California law.

Now the state of California is not on the hook for these claims-they revert back to the individual workers compensation insurance carried by the various teams. But California law allows an avenue for injury compensation that is not available in many states, and so players who could not get compensated in their states of employment are filing in California (here are links to claims from the various pro sports leagues filed in California). Under heavy pressure from the major sports leagues, but particularly the NFL (which sees the repetitive brain injury issue looming large), the legislature and the governor passed a law closing out the ability of these players to file for compensation.

I find this highly troubling-this is not a situation where uninjured players are scamming the workers compensation system for money that is undeserved (California has a long history of this type of problem). Virtually all of these individuals are suffering the effects of athletic injuries that did not manifest themselves until years after their playing careers ended. This is precisely why states enacted workers compensation systems, and I think it's highly dishonest of the NFL, and of California political leadership, to cut off a perfectly ordinary and proper vehicle for these gentlemen to be compensated for their injuries.

UPDATE:  Remember when I said that California has a history of people filing undeserved workers compensation claims? Here is a somewhat sarcastic take on a classic example.

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