Pro athletes fight limits on Calif. workers’ comp

Former professional athletes who have battled countless injuries

since they left the game on Monday criticized a bill in the state

Legislature that would restrict players from collecting workers’

compensation benefits in California.

Two dozen former players, including San Francisco 49ers

defensive player Dana Stubblefield and Reggie Williams of the

Cincinnati Bengals, appeared at the state Capitol to speak against

AB1309, which they said was an effort by team owners to avoid

paying them for legitimate injuries.

”(Players) paid into the system and now they want to take the

system away from us,” said Ickey Woods, who grew up in Fresno and

was a running back for the Bengals.

California is one of nine states that allow professional

athletes from out-of-state teams to seek workers’ compensation

awards, which are paid by their employers. A bill by Assemblyman

Henry Perea, D-Fresno, would allow only players from California

teams to claim workers’ compensation and would shorten the filing

period for claims.

Proponents of AB1309 say out-of-state players abuse California’s

broad workers’ compensation rules by filing claims here even when

they have received awards elsewhere. Allowing non-residents to use

the system increases costs for state taxpayers, they say.

”Professional athletes have every right to file for workers’

comp benefits – but they should do so in their home state or in the

state where they were principally employed,” Perea said in a news

release promoting the bill.

The California Labor Federation and Consumer Attorneys of

California are backing the players and opposing the legislation.

They argue that some injuries athletes suffer while playing may not

be apparent for years, particularly ailments resulting from

repeated stress or injury.

California law has broad limits on filing workers’ compensation

claims, based on when a player knew of the injury and whether they

were properly notified of their compensation rights when they

retired.

Under Perea’s bill, workers’ compensation claims would have to

be filed within a year of an athlete’s final game or of a physician

diagnosing the condition, whichever is later.

Opponents said narrowing California’s rules is unfair to players

who paid income taxes for games played within the state and should

be allowed access to California’s compensation system.

”What we want is a fair look at where the injury took place and

whether or not that player deserves to be compensated under the

NFL’s compensation system,” said DeMaurice Smith, executive

director of the National Football League Players Association.

”This isn’t a case where anyone here is seeking a land grab.”

Several of the former athletes leaned on canes as speakers went

to the lectern. Williams recounted how he’s had 24 operations on

his right leg, which were not paid for by the Bengals or the

NFL.

”The denial of care that the billionaire owners are putting on

players that help make the game as popular as it is is really one

of the most embarrassing things about the game today,” said

Williams, who lifted his pant leg to show his swollen, scarred

knee.

A dozen of the state’s professional sports teams, including the

San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Lakers, and several

insurance companies are backing the measure.

Revising California’s law would help craft some needed standards

for how and where workers’ compensation claims should be handled,

said Jason Kinney, who is representing the NFL, NBA and other

professional sports associations.