MLS Players Union joins NFLPA in opposing Illinois Senate Bill


by Christian Araos

Speaking exclusively to EoS, Major League Soccer Players Union director Bob Foose said the Union has joined the NFL Players Association in opposing a proposed measure in the Illinois State Senate that would limit the age eligibility of professional athletes to receive workers compensation from 65 to 35.

“Very simply, it’s just a money grab by the owners, the teams,” Foose explains. “It’s not going to save the taxpayers any money. It is going to reduce the workers compensation benefits for athletes who get hurt on the job which is close to all of them and the money that is saved will just be kept by the teams. It’s an attempt by the teams to shirk their responsibilities under the workers compensation laws and to treat athletes differently than any other worker. There’s no real justification for it other than that.”

The proposal was inserted within a greater reform bill that was discussed within an Illinois Senate committee last week. It would leave professional athletes ineligible to collect workers compensation once they turned 35 unless they prove their career will continue for a prolonged period of time. It has backing from the McCaskey family, owners of the Chicago Bears.

A lobbyist representing the NFLPA testified that the bill would most significantly impact professional athletes making less than $100,000 a year. There are at least nine active players on the Chicago Fire roster who fall in that category according to last September’s MLS Players Union salary release.

Foose agreed with the argument that athletes who made less over their careers would be more affected by the proposal.

“The reality is that the workers compensation laws are intended to apply to workers, they’re not sports-specific. To treat athletes differently is inconsistent and unprincipled. We don’t carve out other workers from these provisions. There are situations where an athlete and a different team employee could suffer an injury on the job so this provision would treat the athlete different than the team employee for the same injury caused by the same event. There’s no principled reason for this other than to enrich the owners of the teams.”

Foose said the MLSPU found out about the proposed legislation through the NFLPA as part of a permanent relationship between the five major professional players’ unions in North America. NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith said last Friday that he would dissuade members from signing with teams in Illinois if the proposal were enacted. Foose said he would consider dissuading MLS players from signing with the Fire.

“This is very serious for us, workers compensation. The NFLPA’s DeMaurice Smith said they have a 100 percent injury rate, I don’t know if we’re quite that high but we’re awfully close. In other words, athletes get hurt on the job and those injuries are costly in their ability to earn a future living in many, many cases. So to reduce the benefits that they’re entitled to is significant for us and we would be conscious of the effects and we would make sure that all of our members understood the effects and what role that might play in their future career path.”