For all the toughness, determination, and strength that professional football exudes, it is becoming more and more apparent to players, coaches, fans, and doctors that the hard-hitting game can cause serious head injuries that themselves frequently attribute to unforeseen mental health problems.
With the heartbreaking suicide of Junior Seau still fresh in the minds of many, players both active and retired are beginning to file worker's compensation suits against the National Football League on account of serious head injuries sustained during their time on the field. As a group that includes a number of Chicago Bears veterans, these linemen, receivers, and running backs have begun to push for their rights as injured employees in the same way that less famous workers have for decades.
Concussions have been examined at a heightened rate in recent years after it has become clear that players' head injuries, many of them undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to dangerous mental health disorders after their careers have come to a close. Near the end of last year almost 4,000 retired NFL players, Bears included, filed a worker's compensation suit against the league in California.
California and its broad definition of cumulative trauma and repetitive strain injuries has become the favored arena for such sports lawsuits. However, a judge presiding over the suit assessed the need for players to be able to demonstrate that they were indeed injured in California. With players traveling all over the nation as their "workplace" shifts from arena to arena, being able to prove where an injury began, and thus which compensation laws apply, may be a nigh-impossible legal task.
The same judge noted that a player's team's home state may be the only place a workplace injury case will succeed. An earlier federal court justice noted that Bears players hoping to make a claim were governed by Illinois law, their contracts "executed and substantially performed" in their home state.
Injuries sustained in any line of work may not always appear immediately at the moment they are sustained. Although Bears and other NFL players are still working out the best way to deal with concussions and other head injuries sustained in practice and during games, options of recourse already exist for most other Chicago employees.
Source: City Beat, "All Part of the Game: Ruling against former Bengals players illustrates the next step in NFL concussion saga," Bill Sloat and C. Trent Rosecrans, Jan. 23, 2013
• Concussions and long-term mental illness aren't always obvious to workers who are hurt on the job. For more information, contact our Chicago area workers compensation page.