The NFL Players Association headed up by DeMaurice Smith, former counsel to former Attorney General Eric Holder and one time member of Barack Obama’s transition team, once again signaled its willingness to enter the realm of political activism this week by threatening to steer free agents away from the Chicago Bears if a particular workers’ compensation bill passes in Illinois.
According to CBS Chicago, “Under Illinois state law, injured workers can claim disability benefits known as a “wage differential award,” a calculation based on two-thirds of the difference between the average salary they could earn pre-injury, and the average salary they could earn in “some suitable employment or business” after the injury.
“Most permanently injured workers in Illinois can claim compensation benefits until they’re 67 years old. However, legislation sponsored by Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) would end workers’ compensation benefits for professional athletes when they turn 35, unless they can prove their expected playing career would last longer than that.”
The reason for this rule change to the Illinois workers’ compensation formula is simple. No professional athlete’s career lasts until the age of 67. Normally, those careers don’t last past the age until 35. So, by introducing an athlete’s exception to the formula which requires the athlete to prove that their careers would endure past that age, avoids the problem of requiring teams to compensate out of work jocks, two-thirds of a (normally very high) salary they would otherwise not be receiving.
Makes sense, right?
Not so fast, NFLPA Director De Maurice Smith doesn’t see it that way. In an interview with 670 The Score in Chicago, NFLPA Director Smith threatened severe action if the bill passes in Illinois. Smith said, “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. 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?”
Shockingly, the former member of the Obama Justice Department sees the problem as the rich trying to avoid having to share their wealth with the poor. Smith added, “The Bears’ owners are behind it as well, to be blunt, it’s just another way to bankroll the coffers of the rich owners who own these teams at the expense of the players who actually do all the work. … They’re pushing the bill. Our understanding is they are the people who have lined up a lobbyist to promote the bill.”
For their part, the Bears appear willing to risk the consequences of Smith’s threat to steer free agents away from Chicago. The team issued this statement, “We join the four other major professional Chicago teams in monitoring and supporting changes to the system that protect athletes’ rights under the workers’ compensation system while acknowledging athletes are not competing professionally until age 67. Nothing in the wage differential language under consideration impacts the right for any athlete to receive just compensation for partial or permanent injury, medical benefits or to file a claim itself.”
It’s hard to decide what’s more insane here, the fact that a union purportedly dedicated to the well-being of their athletes would steer them away from a team willing to pay for their services, or the apparent need for a law which says that athletes don’t play sports until they’re 67.
Plenty of insanity to choose from, but perhaps none of it should come as a surprise. After all, this is the same NFLPA which used the hash tag “#Muslim Ban” in a tweet earlier this week, addressed as if a Muslim ban truly existed.
Who would have thought that making an Obama operative the director of your players’ union could lead to problems?
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn