The Chicago Bears have several holes to fill, and a new piece of legislation could negatively affect their attempt to sign free agents.
Introduced on 1/11/2017 by Sen. Michael Connelly, Illinois Senate Bill 12 (SB0012) proposes a few changes related to workers’ compensation. One of those changes directly affect how the Chicago Bears, and other professional sports teams, are liable for injuries.
Do the tax payers or Chicago Bears pay workers’ compensation claims?
Let’s get this out of the way. Due to new legislation, tax worries usually rise. Rest easy tax payers of Illinois, because SB0012 makes it clear the employer is on the hook for payments.
Somewhat ironically, the word ‘bears’ is an integral portion of determining an employer’s liability. An “employee bears the burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she has sustained accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of the employment.” That means there is no coverage for a Lamborghini wreck. A mangled knee sustained celebrating a late 4th quarter sack while trailing by 25, however, would be covered.
SB0012’s proposed changes
Within the 136 pages in the proposed bill there are only a few changes. Of those changes, the section most pertinent to the Bears is the wage differential on pages 33-34.
The wage differential (more on that in a bit) is awarded until the employee turns 67, or, at a maximum, 5 years after the injury.
The modifications to the bill, however, specifically define professional athletes and their differences from traditional employees. Instead of a 67-year-old cap on wage differential, the proposed end to wage differential is when the former athlete turns 35 (the 5 year stipulation still applies).
What does this have to do with the Chicago Bears?
According to NFLPA Director DeMaurice Smith, the McCaskey family is pushing the bill. Furthermore, Smith suggested the owners are taking away injury care from the players on their own team. He said on 670 The Score it was merely a way for the owners to “bankroll the coffers.”
The most damning aspect of this is in potential free agents. Smith has said he and the NFLPA plan on telling free agents to avoid the Windy City if the bill passes. To his credit, Cliff Stein, VP of Football for the Bears, is displaying no real concern. For a very flawed team, however, free agents are critical.
Here’s an interview Smith did where he lashed out at the Bears and the content of the bill:
While many Chicago Bears fans may associate this with the classic, “throws around nickels like manhole covers”-line from Mike Ditka, it’s not that simple. Under the current law, there is no differentiation between professional athletes and other professions. And that’s an important distinction.
The Wage Differential
The wage differential is simple enough. If a Chicago Bear player’s salary exceeds what they can expect to make in a post-injury profession (almost a certainty), they are awarded 2/3 of the wage difference between their football salary and their current salary.
Here is an example of how the new law would work for a 25-year old player who is injured on the field while making $1M per year (salary A), and subsequently takes a lower-paying job of $50K per year (salary B):
- Current Law:
- 2/3 the difference between salary A & B (approx. $627K) is calculated
- Player X receives capped value (approx. $56K) per year until 67
- Player X receives approximately $2.3M in total from workers’ comp
- New Law:
- 2/3 the difference between salary A & B is calculated
- Player Y receives capped value per year until 35
- Player Y receives approximately $560K in total from workers’ comp
Bears fans love former players, but should the team be obligated for the $2M difference? The wage differential reasoning is logical for a delivery driver, data analyst, or pharmacy tech. All would be able to work in their profession well into later years.
That’s simply not the case with professional athletes. Even if an athlete plays professionally until they’re 35 – which doesn’t happen often – the argument for the wage differential is the employee would be able to make that salary if not for injury.
A Recent Example
In 2011, Johnny Knox was horrifically folded up like a lawn chair. Two years ago, however, he trotted onto the practice field and threw the ball around with Anthony Adams. That same year, Lovie Smith hired Knox on a coaching fellowship.
Knox and players like him are able to acquire jobs like the rest of us. The team has therefore met compensation requirements. Nonetheless, under the new law he’d still receive compensation until 35, which is most likely after his ability to play even without injury.
Ultimately, this is all about whether an injured player can continue to work. In most cases, they can. They just can’t play football any more. Which is the same realization the great majority of professional athletes reach well before 35, much less 67.