The NFL’s disability board often denies workers’ compensation claims at a rate as high as almost 60 percent. Teams regularly oppose claims filed by former players. The NFL insists it doesn’t have a policy of denying claims. Regardless, the league definitely is good at it.
Every industry attempts to limit exposure to medical liability, which can be a major drain on profits. There’s nothing wrong with owners protecting their bottom line. But the NFL’s bottom line is so strong (about $9.5 billion in annual revenue), it is shameful owners haven’t stepped up more in support of retirees.
Last year, more than 1,300 players received payments totaling $75 million from the NFL Disability Plan. About $23 million has been approved to assist 233 NFL alumni with brain diseases. That’s a sizable financial commitment. But for a league with approximately 18,000 alumni who contributed to the growth of the league in ways large and small, owners have to go deeper into their pockets.
Also, if retirees can’t pay their medical bills and the NFL won’t take care of its own, many former players will turn to the government in an effort to ease their pain. The burden will fall on taxpayers through Social Security disability and Medicare.
Taxpayers shouldn’t get stuck with the bill because billionaire owners would rather buy yachts than pay for a former backup linebacker to have knee-replacement surgery. If owners maintain the current inadequate system and medical care of alumni falls mostly on taxpayers in future generations, the NFL’s immense popularity could take a major hit. That’s not something owners should risk.
Some probably are wondering, “What about the athletes’ responsibility?” No one is forced to play in the NFL. So much information is out there about the health risks associated with the game, everyone knows the deal. Still, most college football players aspire to graduate to the NFL in hopes of achieving the type of fortune and fame relatively few attain. Without them, though, there is no NFL.
The series shined a light on the worst aspects of football. In doing so, it exposed the NFL for how it treats players during their careers and afterward. On the eve of another season, that’s nothing to be excited about.
For more by Jason Reid, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.