A recent lengthy piece in the Washington Post discussed the problem of who pays for injuries suffered by former professional football players years after they retired. The article focused on Reggie Williams, a former Cincinnati Bengals player who is now suffering from a host of painful ailments he blames on his career with the NFL.
Williams has faced multiple knee replacements, a bone infection, rehab and physician therapy and now has a right leg that is three inches shorter than his left. Williams says his injuries are the direct result of his 14-year football career and have so far cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket.
Williams’ case raises an important question about who should bear the costs of football-related medical problems that arise years after athletes played their last game. Though the average NFL player’s career lasts just 3.9 seasons, studies show that one out of every four retirees will have to undergo a joint replacement, the average player suffers arthritis at five times the rate of a normal person and is four times more likely to suffer from a neurodegenerative disease such as ALS.
The problem is that given the incredible wear and tear professional athletes are subjected to, the NFL’s medical benefits fail to adequately address players’ needs. NFL health insurance only lasts five years after retirement and those players who lasted less than three seasons don’t qualify for it at all. The problem is that the most serious and expensive football injuries don’t usually arise until a decade or more after most players retire.
The next approach for injured players is to apply for disability benefits with the league, but the NFL disability board has a denial rate of almost 60 percent. When that avenue fails, most file for workers’ compensation and then discover their claims being opposed by their former teams, just like Williams. Right now more than 3,000 players are in the midst of suing for workers’ compensation benefits for injuries they sustained while on the field. The problem for the players is that most states have statutes of limitation that insist that claims be filed within a few years of sustaining the injury. In Williams’ case, Ohio law says the statute of limitations for workers’ comp claims is five years, but Williams only began suffering his serious knee problems 17 years after retirement.
As a result of these statutes of limitation, many players have tried to file suit in other jurisdictions, especially California which has a worker-friendly reputation. The NFL has responded by working with legislators to ban suits by out-of-state athletes. Such efforts frustrate players and their attorneys, who say team owners profit from the violence of the game, raking up upwards of $9.5 billion in annual revenues, yet try to evade financial responsibility for the injuries that come with it.
If the California legislation becomes law, the players argue that generations of older athletes, who made far less than today’s players, will be shut out of the system and be forced to turn to Social Security disability or Medicare benefits. That means that taxpayers could find themselves on the hook for injuries sustained as a result of playing for a billion-dollar professional sports organization.
Pope McGlamry P.C., currently represents former professional football players and their families for injuries and damages sustained as a result of suffering concussions while playing football, and is actively involved in the current concussion litigation. If you or someone you love has been injured by a sports-related concussion, you may be entitled to compensation.
Source: “Do no harm: Who should bear the costs of retired NFL players’ medical bills?,” by Sally Jenkins, published at WashingtonPost.com.
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