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NFLPA will urge free agents to not sign with Chicago Bears if Illinois passes bill limiting workers’ compensation

Illinois is trying to pass a workers’ compensation bill that includes a section targeting professional athletes. The NFLPA is having none of that.

The state of Illinois is in the process of pushing through a workers’ compensation reform bill, and controversy has arisen for professional athletes. The bills limits workers compensation for athletes, setting a cut-off age of 35, or a period of five years removed from the date of the given injury, whichever is later. If you go down to page 33 and 34 of this PDF you can read more about the change.

The NFLPA has been lobbying against the bill, as it would cost players coverage for injuries suffered over the course of their career. On Friday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said that if the bill passes, the union will encourage free agents to not sign with the Chicago Bears.

“I will tell you from the bottom of my heart that this union will tell every potential free agent player, if this bill passes, to not come to the Bears,” Smith said. “Because, think about it, if you’re a free agent player and you have an opportunity to go play somewhere else where you can get lifetime medical for the injury you’re going to have, isn’t a smarter financial decision to go to a team where a bill like this hasn’t passed?”

The bill has not passed yet, but with free agency approaching next month, it is going to be something to track. The Bears have $54 million in cap space, and could be plenty active during free agency. If the bill passes and players are encouraged to stay away from Chicago, it will add another level of intrigue to free agency.

A big reason this is an issue is due to problems of cumulative trauma that impact players. A player might retire and last five or ten years before you really start to feel the big problems from his playing days. Players are paying into this, but they lose out if they are not able to make a claim within this time frame. The money itself is one thing, but the medical treatment is where this becomes particularly problematic for retired players.

It is not a surprise to learn that Chicago Bears ownership is reportedly pushing for the bill. I spoke with socalisteph, who works in the area of workers’ compensation. According to Steph, football teams pay an increased modification rate to insurance companies due to the nature of injuries in the NFL. By imposing this kind of cap, it will potentially provide savings to ownership. Of course, given the eventual medical needs for these players, often times tax payers are left footing the bill through state programs.

The NFL talks about taking care of the players who have since departed the game. It should surprise nobody that the league and its teams are focused primarily on the bottom line, and willing to sacrifice those older players (and plenty of younger players) if it will pad their profits.

It is one more reason it is hard to take Roger Goodell or any of the owners seriously in this regard. Eddie DeBartolo spoke about taking care of these players last year, and it was something he prided himself on with any player who spent time with the 49ers. And yet, too many NFL owners ignore the importance of this, and have no qualms kicking the players who built this league to the curb.