An off-field dustup between the Bears, as the point organization for Illinois pro sports teams, and the NFL players association ratcheted up on Friday with representatives of the NFLPA again urging defeat of proposed legislation limiting the years that pro athletes can receive a workers' compensation supplement, and the Bears responding that the legislation simply corrects an anomaly in Illinois law.
The Bears and Illinois teams are pushing for a change in workers' compensation law that currently allows pro athletes to collect a differential for lost income due to an injury while playing. The law now permits that wage differential to continue until the age 67 limit applied to all workers; the teams contend that the career expectancies for pro sports, particularly football, should cap the term of those benefits to age 35, on the basis of most pro careers being over by that age.
Senate Bill 12 contains a proposal for workers' comp reform, specifically eliminating the ability of pro athletes to collect wage-differential benefits until age 67.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
"We want one of two outcomes," said George Atallah, NFLPA assistant executive director of External Affairs via conference call. "For the NFL to call the Chicago Bears and tell them to stop this; or for the state senator [Republican Christine Radogno] to pull this bill on behalf of the Bears and the other professional sports teams who essentially wrote it for her."
The wage-differential benefit is neither present nor uniform in state laws nationally. "This is really an anomaly in the law that needs correction," said Bears General Counsel Cliff Stein.
Stein disputed a number of assertions by NFLPA officials, stating that "IIlinois is the only [state] that has athletes pursuing or filing for wage differential benefits until age 67. ... This is an anomaly that only exists here."
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith declared last week that he would urge free agents to spurn the Bears if the bill does pass. Stein, himself a former players agent, said that he did not expect agents and players to rule out Illinois because of the situation. Several other states do not offer any kind of workers' compensation benefits to pro athletes.