Today’s professional athletes often spend their time performing extensive, physically demanding and dangerous activities anytime they train, practice or compete. Although their bodies are typically conditioned to withstand the demands of their sport, these athletes are not invincible. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that sports competitors and professional athletes suffer over 2,000 serious injuries per 10,000 workers each year. This places sports in the top five when it comes to occupations with the most injuries.
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Football: Injuries on the Field
Football has long been recognized as a dangerous sport for amateurs and professional athletes alike, and despite numerous efforts to increase safety on the field, players continue to suffer catastrophic injuries every year. Official reports from the National Football League (NFL) state that within the first two weeks of the season, approximately 15 percent of professional football players have already suffered an injury. While some injuries are fairly minor and recovery is quick, others result in severe impairments, long-term disabilities, and sometimes even death. Head, neck, and knee injuries are some of the most common serious injuries sustained by players, and these injuries can sometimes take victims out of the game for good. For a few, repetitive injuries sustained during years of participating in the sport can cost them their lives. A study released in 2015 revealed that out of 91 NLF players who were deceased, a disturbing 87 tested positive for a brain disease that has been linked to repetitive head trauma (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
Baseball: Diamonds in the Dust
Professional baseball players often suffer severe injuries that sideline them, and sometimes their careers, as well. According to studies published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, about 51.4 percent of Major League Baseball injuries were to the upper extremities, while 30.6 percent were to the lower extremities. Pitchers were at the highest risk of injury, accounting for about 34 percent more injuries than fielders, and they suffered a significantly higher number of injuries to the upper extremity (67 percent). Fielders, however, were more likely to suffer injuries to the lower extremity, accounting for about 47.5 percent. While professional baseball players are much less likely than football players to lose their lives while participating in practice or a game, many times their injuries are so severe that they become unable to continue their careers.
Basketball: Catastrophe on the Court
With teams playing demanding, 82-game seasons, participating in off-season play and rigorous practices, injuries are common for players in the NBA. Serious lower extremity injuries account for about 72 percent of all injuries that result in games missed due to injury. While ankle injuries are the most common occurrence, injuries that affect the patella and the knee are responsible for the most time away from the court. Although some of these injuries are treated fairly quickly, others are so severe that players’ careers are cut short. Many are forced to endure long-term pain and extensive medical and rehabilitative treatments.
Injured Pro-Athletes and Workers Compensation
Workers compensation generally provides two types of benefits to victims of work injuries: medical benefits and wage replacement. In Illinois, wage replacement benefits are designed to provide wage differential for victims to compensate for lost income- even if the worker is capable of other, lower paying work. The workers compensation laws in Illinois are currently some of the most generous in the nation, with victims receiving wage differential payments until age 67. Additionally, injured workers are able to receive approximately two-thirds of the difference in lost wages. This amount is currently capped at $1,075 per week, or $55,900 each year.
A recent proposal, if passed however, could limit the duration of wage replacement benefits for professional athletes in Illinois. Advocates of the proposal claim that since no pro-athlete plays sports until the age of 67 (except possibly golfers), the benefits should only be paid up to the age of 35, or five years from the date the incident occurred. They argue that this limit will more accurately reflect the term of a professional sports career.
Is the Proposal Fair to Professional Athletes?
Those who oppose this proposal have stated that although many pro-athletes end their careers at around age 35, $55,900 is a mere fraction of what these victims could have expected to earn each year had they not suffered serious injury. An injured running back, for instance, who is injured on the field could lose around 90 percent of his income each year- an amount that quickly adds up over the course of his lifetime. And by limiting benefits to age 35, the injured athlete will likely earn far less through age 67 than he would have earned in a more typical profession.
If passed, the legislation will not limit wage replacement benefits for victims who are unable to any job due to their injuries.