NFLPA Director DeMaurice Smith Attacks Bears’ Backing Of Illinois Workers’ Comp Bill

By Chris Emma–

(CBS) DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, is prepared to tell potential free agents not to sign with the Bears should a new Illinois bill that he says targets athletes is passed.

Under Illinois state law, injured workers can claim disability benefits known as a “wage differential award,” a calculation based on two-thirds of the difference between the average salary they could earn pre-injury and the average salary they could earn in “some suitable employment or business” after the injury.

Most permanently injured workers in Illinois can claim compensation benefits until they’re 67 years old. However, legislation sponsored by Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) would end workers’ compensation benefits for professional athletes when they turn 35, unless they can prove their expected playing career would last longer than that.

Smith told the Spiegel & Parkins Show on Friday that the bill is being pushed by the McCaskey family, the owners of the Bears.

“This bill being sponsored by Ms. Radogno is simply designed to target professional athletes and take away their right to health care that every worker in the state of Illinois is entitled to,” Smith told the Spiegel & Parkins Show.

“The Bears’ owners are behind it as well. To be blunt, it’s just another way to bankroll the coffers of the rich owners who own these teams at the expense of the players who actually do all the work … They’re pushing the bill. Our understanding is they are the people who have lined up a lobbyist to promote the bill.”

The Bears released a statement to 670 The Score:

“We join the four other major professional Chicago teams in monitoring and supporting changes to the system that protect athletes’ rights under the workers’ compensation system while acknowledging athletes are not competing professionally until age 67. Nothing in the wage differential language under consideration impacts the right for any athlete to receive just compensation for partial or permanent injury, medical benefits or to file a claim itself.”

Smith described the bill as “just a chicken-scratch thing thrown into the budget at the last minute.” He also referred to previous cases similar to this one around the league.

“Its only effect is to hurt people who get hurt for a living,” Smith added.

“It’s just cheapness. It’s just being cheap.”

Should this bill pass, Smith and the NFLPA plan to sway players from signing 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,” Smith said. “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?”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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