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The Benevolent NFL Plutocrats

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This is the NFL’s most self-congratulating weekend, which is quite considerable given the other 51 weeks of the year. But between the Super Bowl (is there a single American rooting for Team Trump outside of New England and the White House?) and the Hall of Fame announcement tonight, this is the peak of the year for the NFL. So I was surprised to hear of this attack on the Chicago Bears’ players in the Illinois state legislature.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith says he will tell potential free agents not to sign with the Chicago Bears should new Illinois Senate Bill 12 SA #2 pass.

The bill would adjust the Workers’ Compensation Act as it applies to professional athletes, who potentially are entitled to a wage differential award. The new bill would look to eliminate those athletes from being eligible for wage differential awards after age 35.

The law currently allows players to get paid for the term of their natural life which is set at 67 years old. Those wanting change contend pro athletes seldom play beyond age 35 so paying them until 67 because of injury is unfair and expensive.

“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 told 670 The Score in Chicago. “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?”

If I was a Bears fan (and thank the higher powers that be that I am not), I would be freaking out right now. All of a sudden, Cleveland and Buffalo would be more attractive destinations for players than Chicago. What the heck is behind this?

Smith told the Spiegel & Parkins Show on Friday that the bill is being pushed by the McCaskey family which owns the Bears.

“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,” the Bears responded in a statement released to 670 The Score. “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.”

Ah, the McCaskey family. Virginia McCaskey’s personal wealth was $1.3 billion in 2014. The team itself was worth $1.7 billion in that same year. So you can see why the family would intervene to destroy the health care of their players. There’s always another ivory backscratcher to purchase. I’m sure Roger Goodell will be intervening to say the NFL completely opposes this horrible bill right away. Because if there’s one thing about Goodell, he truly cares about the safety of the players….

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  • Brett

    Are they the ones that got the front office chock full of family members and largely treat the franchise as a cash cow?

  • keta

    If I was a Bears fan (and thank the higher powers that be that I am not)…

    Waitaminute. Who are these higher powers that determine sports fandom? Are they agents of deities, and if they are why aren’t we all fans of the Saints or the Angels? Are they animal spirits? Indigenous people? Or are they naturally occurring phenomenon, like an avalanche or heat? Perhaps these higher powers favour nature, like a maple leaf, or a man-made mode of transport, like a jet? Does a higher power really want us to embrace rangers? Red wings? Misspelled socks, of any colour?

    I guess I’ve never had a vision, a sign, to indicate which sports teams to root for. Just call me a zealnot.

  • Jonny Scrum-half

    I’m not an Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer, so I don’t understand whether removing the ability to receive a “wage differential” through age 67 would affect the right to have medical treatment for work-related injuries, which is what Smith appears concerned about. I don’t see why one would necessarily affect the other.

    • Dilan Esper

      I am not one either, but I can imagine a football injury not only preventing a player from playing football but interfering with other gainful employment as well.

      Plus, isn’t workers compensation supposed to fairly compensate for any injury at work? Isn’t that the deal- we give up the right to sue our employer or our fellow servants but we get full and fast compensation from the system?

      So if a player has a lasting injury, shouldn’t he continue to receive compensation?

      • Major Rager

        I am an IL WC lawyer. Current law re: wage differentials allows, in situations where an employee has physical restrictions related to an on the job injury that preclude him/her from returning to that job, that the employee should be entitled to 2/3 of the difference between his per-injury earnings and what he’s able to earn going forward until age 67 or 5 years from the date of hearing, whichever is later.
        So let’s say you’re NFL Joe. Your contract pays $3 mil/year but you suffer a serious injury when you’re 31 and no team will sign you. All you need to do is ask an ortho for a note stating “restricted from lifting above X lbs.” Now you have permanent restrictions. Then you get a job making say $125k/year post-playing career, which was going to be your career path regardless because almost nobody plays past their mid 30s. Technically you’d be entitled to a yearly differential of about $1.88 mil per year until you turn 67, when there would otherwise have been literally a zero possibility that under any circumstances you would have been playing in the NFL past, say, 37. Even without a wage diff claim any injured Bears player will walk away with a substantial chunk of PPD benefit $ if he bothers to file a claim for any given injury. I think the absurdity of the current law as applied to such employees is obvious. It also does not change in any way a claimant’s entitlement to medical care.
        Having said that, the McCaskeys profit from a monopoly, are horrible owners, and what they have is by virtue of being born into a family rather a product of their effort, unlike any NFL player, so any sympathy in their direction is misplaced.

        • brewmn

          Yeah, the fact that NFL players are part of the WC system at all seems completely nuts to me. The owners should be required to provide generous long-term disability insurance out of their own pockets.

  • wjts

    The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
    The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
    Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
    ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond cartoon super-villainy, and the bounds
    Of common decency, until I die.
    It may be that the courts will strike us down:
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
    And see the great Al Davis, whom we knew.

    Tho’ much was taken, much remains; and though
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Won Super Bowl XLI; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of rapacious “hearts”,
    Made poor by players’ union, but strong in will
    To thieve, to steal, to filch, and not to yield.

    • Colin Day

      +Skyfall

    • wjts

      Won Super Bowl XLI…

      “Won Super Bowl XX” (you dummy).

  • Ahenobarbus

    Forgive my skepticism about the claim that this will keep FAs from signing with the Bears. You could argue they shouldn’t sign with them, but that’s not the same thing as saying they won’t.

  • efgoldman

    is there a single American rooting for Team Trump outside of New England and the White House?

    Or they can root for the team owned by the guy who screwed thousands of Home Depot employees, who has blackmailed the Atlanta Metro into building him two new stadiums, instead? He probably voted for the Mango Malignancy, too.

    I repeat: If ownership is a reason for rooting for or hating a team, none of us would ever be fans of ANY NFL teams except maybe the Packers, nor most other major pro league teams.

    • wjts

      The Rooneys aren’t so bad. And there was the sainted Bill Veeck, I guess.

      • njorl

        I like the Eagles owner. He worked as a adjunct professor of social policy and won an academy award for producing Inside Job.
        Just because you’re born into incredible wealth doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole.

    • Breadbaker

      Blank is pretty much of a Democrat and endorsed Hillary.

      • EliHawk

        Yeah, if you look up his donations on OpenSecrets, they show that he’s given mostly to Moderate to Liberal Dems over the years. He maxed out to Hillary last year and threw in $25K to the DNC. He has also made some donations to Georgia GOPers (mostly Johnny Isakson). The latter’s probably the cost of doing business in a one party state, but it didn’t keep him from also maxing out to Michelle Nunn, throwing $20K to the Georgia State Party machine and $32K to the DSCC and nothing towards her opponent 3 yrs ago. That says something.

  • Jackson87

    And I am under the impression that Packers’ management is particularly anti-union, but am not 100% certain of this.
    Also, Steve Bisciotti, Ravens’ owner, is a pretty decent guy.

  • jeer9

    Super Bowl press conference snippets with Sean Spicer (Oops, I mean the commissioner).

    QUESTION: What is your reaction to Patriots owner Robert Kraft saying you received bad advice from the league lawyers about DeflateGate?

    Goodell: “No, we had a violation. We went through a process. We applied the discipline in accordance with our process. It was litigated as you know, extensively, and validated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. So, we’re moving on from that. That’s part of our history, but it’s something that we’re comfortable with the process, the decision, and as I said, we’re focusing on the game now.”

    Lies, falsehoods, and misleading statements

    1. There was no violation.
    2. The process was made up as the league pressed forward.
    3. There was no discipline in accordance with any process because the process didn’t exist.

    FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: One quick fact check. The courts didn’t uphold the investigation. It upheld your right to go ahead and do what you did …

    Goodell: “If you look at the Second Circuit Court, the decision that they set, they said there are compelling, if not overwhelming, facts here and that’s the point that I just made.”

    Lies, falsehoods, and misleading statements

    1. There was no violation (again).
    2. Journalist is correct. The court did not come to their own conclusion that there were “compelling facts.” Labor law requires the court to accept the arbitrator’s findings (aka: Goodell’s authority) and not challenge them.

    I feel confident as well that Goodell will resist the temptation to do something stupid in the future like relax the ban on player usage of marijuana for pain relief. Opioids remain the safest and healthiest way to treat CTE/chronic pain and this approach is supported by the same strong scientific methods the league used in its investigation of deflated footballs.

    • imwithher

      On the issue of “process,” the Court found, quite correctly, if unfortunately, that the CBA, which Brady’s union agreed to, authorizes the Commish “to investigate possible rule violations…impose appropriate sanctions..and…preside at arbitrations challenging his discipline.” And while “this tripartite regime” appeared to be “somewhat unorthodox,” it was “the regime
      bargained for and agreed upon by the parties…”

      In other words, the CBA gave almost unlimited discretion to the Commish, in terms of substantive questions (what is a rule violation, what punishment is appropriate) and did not specify any particular “process” at all. Which means that the method of investigation, decision making and appeal used was perfectly acceptable under the CBA. Made up as it went along? Maybe, but that was OK under the contract. Similarly, the definition of a rule violation and the particular discipline imposed could be almost anything, because, again, that is what the CBA authorized.  

      It is true that the Court did not make any ruling on the fact of a violation (ie did Brady deflate the balls or cause them to be deflated), so the Commish is fibbing a bit here. Of course, as you mention, that issue, given the posture of the case, the precedents re labor arbitration, and the terms of this particular CBA, that was only proper. And the court case, including at the District Court level, did not turn on that question.

      It is also true, however, that the Second Circuit’s statement of the facts of the case does bolster the finding of a violation.

      And, of course, it is only your opinion, and not at all a given fact, that there was “no violation.”

      My opinion is that there was a violation, and that Brady got off lightly. But I won’t try to pretend that my opinion is a fact, and that any contrary opinion is therefor a “lie.”

      • marduk

        …it is only your opinion, and not at all a given fact, that there was “no violation”.

        Every bit of evidence is consistent with no deflation. Some evidence contradicts the possibility of deflation. No evidence exists of deflation. Outside of “can anybody really know anything, really?” it’s a fact that no violation occurred.

        • imwithher

          Please. Look at the Ct of Appeals decision. There is ample evidence of deflation. While the balls were under Brady’s flunkies’ control. And to Brady’s pre expressed preference. And Brady attempted to destroy evidence showing suspicious and suspiciously timed phone conversations with his flunky. (The last bit, by the way, was enough by itself to justify the suspension.)

          You can argue what the preponderence of the evidence shows. And do a “battle of the experts” thing, if you like. And so on. But it is clearly only an opinion that there was “no violation.” Tough noogies if you don’t like that.

          • marduk

            There is zero, and I mean zero, evidence of deflation. If you think you have any, present it.

            And Brady didn’t “attempt to destroy evidence”. That was pure slander by Goodell in an attempt to develop a new justification for the suspension when his original justification collapsed. He got a new phone and gave his old phone to his assistant. When Goodell attempted to represent this as “destroying evidence” Brady went to the phone company and presented a record of every text he made with that phone to the league. Needless to say the league found nothing incriminating whatsoever.

      • efgoldman

        that Brady got off lightly.

        If only the commish had imposed a penalty of drawing and quartering, then all would be right with the world.

        ETA: No fair. You edited that out.

      • jeer9

        From Stephanie Stradley’s legal blog:

        The Wells Report contains a lot of inferences about events, and basically says three people are liars. The final NFL ruling in its essence concludes that Tom Brady lied under oath.

        Assume for a second that Tom Brady and all Patriots personnel were innocent of all of this. That what happened in the game was normal ball deflation due to difference in temperatures, conditions and ball use. Assume that they did nothing wrong, and it was the initial wrong reports that encouraged the league to do an investigation.

        What evidence is sufficient enough to prove that negative to the satisfaction of the NFL and Ted Wells? Testimony under oath was insufficient. Multi-hour questioning in front of many lawyers denying it was insufficient. Studies involving ball deflation and noting agreed problems with accurate ball measurements was insufficient.

        I can’t fathom any type of evidence that would have been persuasive to Ted Wells and the NFL.

        Wells added that he wanted to see the contents of Brady’s phone, and said, “Keep the phone. You and the agent, Mr. Yee, you can look at the phone. You give me documents that are responsive to this investigation and I will take your word that you have given me what’s responsive.”

        You can tell from the Wells Report, there were the normal and natural disagreements about the appropriate breadth of discovery. (“Discovery” is the general term in law that refers to the information that is required or should be shared between the parties).

        In civil and criminal court contexts, sometimes if these discovery disputes get heated enough, the parties go to the judge to resolve it. You don’t have that in the context of this sort of investigation. And the CBA and other documents don’t spell out what constitutes cooperation.

        In my opinion, rightfully, Tom Brady declined to offer the contents of his private phone. It appears he was advised by his agent/attorney to do so, and in the union context, it is peculiar to even ask for all electronic communications from private devices.

        It appears as though Brady was upholding his union rights pursuant to counsel advice, and frankly given the NFL’s track record of PR-oriented leaks, I think from a privacy perspective that is wise. In addition, the NFL had immediate access to the non-union equipment personnels’ phones, and any texts with Brady could be found on there and were.

        It’s odd that the NFL is basing any of their disciplinary ruling on this given that at the time of the Wells Report, Ted Wells said he never was interested in the physical phone. And that he was willing to take Brady and Yee’s word about whether there were responsive documents contained in it.

        As far as bright shiny object topics go, it is worth noting that Roger Goodell did not provide his private phone in the Mueller investigation.

        Part of process is reasonable notice of the issues and a neutral arbitration.

        Was Brady made aware that the phone contents were going to be made a big part of a significant punishment? Would he have been required to maintain his computer data? Process issues.

        The NFL has a history of trying to move the goal line on why the players are being punished.

        The evidence isn’t *spoiled* anyway because they have the texts already and were offered an easy way to get texts from team sources if the NFL chose to.

        The NFL did not warn the Patriots about this because they didn’t take the complaint seriously.

        The NFL had no protocols in place for measuring footballs, and never had made it a big deal.

        Wells said that the Patriots cooperated fully, with the exception of Wells wanting to re-interview one part-time, non-local employee.

        The alleged offense, altered footballs, is supposed to be a $25,000 fine.

        That said, I wish I had a dollar for every time I had to explain to a client that their situation is completely unfair but that they have no good legal options.

        Try again.

        My opinion is that there was a violation, and that Brady got off lightly.

        I dare you to come up with a more whimsically severe punishment.

  • chrisg

    “4 other major professional Chicago teams.”

    I can read between the lines there, but do MLS and WNBA have a stake in this too? Other not “major” professional sports leagues?

    • jamesepowell

      Does anyone consider MLS or WNBA major league sports?

      • Dennis Orphen

        MLS? Futbol (as a long-time resident of the urban PNW I’ve trained myself not to spend political capital by calling it so**er) is easily the most popular sport outside the US. And we have a lot of immigrants etc here.

        Also, MLS has good attendance in both absolute terms and relative to the other US major league sports.

        Obviously though, MLS probably lags in revenue behind the other big league sports.

      • chrisg

        The dig was made with “major”, but what’s more relevant is the “professional”. My main question is that is the worker’s comp reduction being targeted solely at the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA? Or will it affect all professional athletes? And the strategic point being that there are other allies (and fan bases) to engage in the fight, plus, given the lower prestige and pay of their leagues, the athletes have more to lose.

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    How small does your soul have to be for someone to be worth over a billion dollars, yet be willing to exert considerable time and energy to screw over your employees?

  • twointimeofwar

    If these players plan to come to Cleveland, they should know they’ll need the disability coverage… we have no line to protect anyone from injury.

    I’ll go back to drinking in my Cleveland sports fan corner.

    • Whatever. Enjoy your NBA title and World Series appearance.

      • David Allan Poe

        Hell, if they extend their fandom to Columbus they have a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup, too.

  • efgoldman

    Terrell Davis to the HOF? Really?

    • I think it was Kenny Easley getting the seniors vote that did it for Davis. They basically had the same career, even at different positions. Since it seems to be bad form to reject the seniors nominee, it was harder to keep out Davis for the same reason that Easley was never inducted.

    • Denverite

      That’s not fair. Everyone knows about Gale Sayers, but look at Earl Campbell or OJ Simpson’s stats. They basically had five great years; Davis had four. Which, OK, you can tell a story where five is the cutoff, EXCEPT.

      1.) Davis is also the best post-season running back in NFL history. In eight postseason games, he averaged 143 yards, had seven 100+ games, and won two Super Bowls on teams where he was the best player. Simpson and Campbell had negligible postseason careers. So it’s more like 5 good seasons to 4.5.

      2.) Davis’s career was cut short by injury. Campbell and Simpson just kind of faded away. Who knows what Davis would have done absent the injury.

      3.) I’ve never heard Campbell or Simpson referred to as borderline HOFers a la Jerome Bettis or Curtis Martin.

      Until today, there was a very good argument that Terrell Davis was the best eligible former player in NFL history not in the HOF (ironically, Kurt Warner — also elected today — probably was the strongest counterargument). Running backs just have a different longevity standard. Five years (or in Davis’s case, four years plus a bunch of other stuff) is enough.

      [ETA: If you are arguing that Davis shouldn’t be in the HOF, you have to make one of the following two cases: (1) Earl Campbell AND OJ Simpson don’t belong in the HOF, or (2) postseason stats don’t matter. If you can’t make one of those cases, you lose.]

      • efgoldman

        They basically had five great years; Davis had four.

        Counselor, I question whether your pleading would be so overwrought if Mr. Davis had played in any other uniform, with the same stats.

        • Denverite

          I think so?

      • EliHawk

        As a Georgia fan growing up, I was always amazed that Terrell Davis was THAT GOOD as a pro. Injuries hurt him in Athens, but he just didn’t seem as big a deal as Garrison Hearst (who he replaced) was. Of course, those were Eric Zeier’s teams anyway. But still, around 96 when he really broke out nationally, there seemed to be a collective “Huh?” among Bulldog fans.

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