NFLPA Head DeMaurice Smith Reiterates Belief On Wage Differential Benefits, Acknowledges Bears Aren’t Only Team Facing The Situation

(CBS) Four days after calling the Bears “cheap” and threatening to sway free agents from signing with Chicago based on his belief that team ownership is supporting a bill that would lessen a part of workers’ compensation benefits for athletes, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith reiterated his stance on 670 The Score on Tuesday but also acknowledged the Bears aren’t the only NFL organization facing this type of situation.

“There are other teams where workers’ comp is worse and better,” Smith told host Danny Parkins. “I’m not singling out the Bears.

“We’ve fought a bill like this in Louisiana, we fought a bill like this in North Carolina.

“All of the states … where the workers’ comp benefits are worse than those in other places, our advice to any free agent player would be to consider in making your decision about where you can take your free-agent talent, consider where you where you most likely will be able to file and get full protection for your workers’ comp benefits.”

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.

On Friday, Smith blasted Bears chairman George McCaskey in an exclusive interview on 670 The Score, saying, “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.” He also threatened to dissuade players from joining the Bears in free agency.

“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.

Following up Tuesday on those remarks, Smith acknowledged other NFL teams reside in states with wage differential laws that don’t protect athletes deep into their elder years. Only 13 states offer wage differential benefits, the Tribune reported.

Bears ownership also has plenty of company in Chicago in supporting the new bill, as the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks also signed a letter in January that explained their backing. Additionally, only 13 states offer wage differential benefits, the Tribune reported.

Smith pushed back at the notion that his words Friday were “over the top,” explaining he will fight for every last dollar and right for the players he represents.

“The reality of it is this: This is a league that generates billions of dollars,” Smith said. “These are players who play for 3.5 years, and these are owners who own the teams for decades. So my issue is always going to be if you try to take or do anything that decreases the benefits to a player by even a dime due to the fact that you own the teams for decades and our guys play for years, then I’m never going to say I was over the top in saying that a group of billionaires are going to choose to stick it to a group of people that play for a period of time that is much shorter than the hundreds of billions on dollars that you’re going to make as a team over the lifetime that you’re going to own it.

Pressed on why players should retain wage differential benefits to 67 years old when they’re in a profession that doesn’t retain most of its work force past 35, Smith responded that the players “are the only people in this business who get hurt.”

To be clear, the wage differential benefits are separate from medical benefits.

“Any time there is a bill that targets purely professional athletes that has no impact whatsoever on a taxpayer, that’s a signal to me that it’s a bill where a small group of owners are looking to benefit over the men who actually do the work,” Smith said.

“Any owner that makes the decision to use state legislation to make the rights of professional athletes worth less than the average worker is someone who is not good.”

The Bears have only addressed the matter with a statement they released Friday:

“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.”

Below is a look at Illinois Senate Bill 12 that Smith takes issue with.

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