A former NFL player’s life often becomes increasingly painful after retirement, when the cumulative damage of years of battling football tackles and collisions with other players takes a major toll on the body. Unlike the average American, the bodies of ex-NFL players deteriorate at a faster pace, because NFL players expose their bodies to repetitive, blunt force trauma, even during the course of one football season.
Insurance companies know this fact. The NFL knows it as well, which is why the NFL Player’s Association attempted to reform the current health benefits plans for the thousands of athletes that belong to the league.
Former NFL football players, Ron Mix and Mel Owens, became attorneys to advocate on behalf of NFL players receiving worker’s compensation awards to cover some of their immediate health care expenses during recent retirement. With the aid of Mix and Owens, numerous retired NFL athletes have filed claims in the state of California, the only state applying worker’s compensation to the NFL, and earned between $60,000 and $100,000 in lump sum cash settlements.
Owens claims that at least 75% of his clients suffer from the onset of severe brain injuries at the conclusion of their NFL careers. Such injuries include early onset dementia, not to mention Alzheimer’s according to some studies. These injuries paired with orthopedic injuries that requirement joint replacements for severely arthritic shoulders, knees, and hips heavily increase a typical retired NFL player’s healthcare costs.
As a result, insurance companies charge NFL players higher insurance premiums, if the ex-NFL players purchases insurance coverage individually. Often, former NFL players accept meager worker’s compensation awards, because it supplements their medical needs, especially since many NFL players are forced to work on reduced incomes at the end of their career with rising health costs.
In a recent interview, Jerome Bettis, ex-Pittsburgh Steeler, said that the NFL should reform healthcare for former players, because often their benefits through NFL expire after 5 years. Nevertheless, the need for continued healthcare coverage does not.
Arguably, some opponents suggest that allowing retired NFL players to receive Worker’s compensation destroys the original legal purpose of worker’s compensation laws. Originally, the purpose of worker’s compensation was to provide legal compensation to employees injured while on the job, who would then forfeit their right to sue their employee allowing the employer to avoid an admission of guilt.
The system provided an even compromise for both employers and employees, but over time, some employees learned that their work’s comp awards were insufficient for their injuries. Similarly, ex-NFL players are finding that even 6 figure worker’s comp awards are no match for the rising costs of coping with the day-to-day treatments for dementia and severe arthritis.
Further, opponents worry that California’s legal system will become burdened covering the costs of all NFL player’s worker’s comp claims, because CA is the only state that recognizes workers compensation for the NFL. Therefore, even out of state former NFL players have the jurisdiction to file worker’s compensation lawsuits in California, since an NFL team exists in California.
Ultimately, the parties most affected by the issue of worker’s compensation for retired NFL players are the family members. After all, spouses and children often become the primary caregivers of players living with dementia, long after cheering football fans forget that the players existed.
Admin. “What is Worker’s Compensation?” EmployLaw.com.
Alan Schwarz. ” Two Ex-Players Leverage Connections in N.F.L. Workers’ Comp Cases,” NYTimes.com.
Associated Press. ” Players’ union rejects NFL’s health care proposal,” SportsIllustrated.com.
Sean Clemens. ” California’s workers’ comp laws causing pain for team owners,” Sportsbusinessjournal.com.