Over the weekend the NFL Players Association drew a line in the sand over a bill currently being debated in the Illinois State Senate that would sharply reduce eligibility for workers compensation benefits for professional athletes. The bill, reportedly backed by the Bears-owning McCaskey Family as well as Chicago’s four biggest professional sports teams, would reduce the maximum eligibility age from 67 to 35.
The rationale behind the bill stems from arguments that very few professional athletes play past 35 anyway— Tom Brady, who just won the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, is 39— and also that professional athletes make enough money anyway. It’s worth noting that median salary in Major League Soccer is $117,000 and nine players currently on the Fire roster make less than than $100,000. [Ed. note: per this spreadsheet, there are in fact 12 players on the current Fire roster making less than $100k. We regret the error.] Salaries for non-allocated NWSL players top out at less than $40,000.
NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith said that if the bill passes his organization would warn players not to sign with the Bears.
“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?”
Given how many MLS players could be affected by the bill if it becomes law, it’s not a huge surprise that the MLS Players Union has joined their NFL counterparts. And while he didn’t quite come out and say it, MLSPU director Bob Foose said that free agents and other players with some say over where they go could be warned away from signing with the Fire.
“Very simply, it’s just a money grab by the owners, the teams. It’s not going to save the taxpayers any money. It is going to reduce the workers compensation benefits for athletes who get hurt on the job which is close to all of them and the money that is saved will just be kept by the teams. It’s an attempt by the teams to shirk their responsibilities under the workers compensation laws and to treat athletes differently than any other worker. There’s no real justification for it other than that.”
Hot (Time) Take
While the idea of players being warned against signing with the Fire for reasons that have nothing to do with the club itself is distressing, I’m inclined to side with the MLSPU here. Professional athletes are still workers, and they deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else in the labor force. This is especially true for MLS players, who until fairly recently were squarely in lower-middle class tax brackets, and for NWSL players, some of whom could find more lucrative careers as retail associates. These proposed cuts for workers comp eligibility are nothing more than a naked power grab by the McCaskey Family and other uber-wealthy franchise owners in this city at the shocking and unadulterated expense of their employees. Lives will be ruined and families will be torn apart if this bill passes. (And yes, you could also make a business-focused argument against the bill by pointing out the added difficulty in attracting the best available talent, but, and I realize this is difficult for a lot of people to process, sometimes human costs matter more than business costs.)
As an aside— if Andrew Hauptman really wants to mend some fences in the organization and with the fans, taking a public stand against this bill could be a very good start. Just saying.