Deion Sanders Seeks Workers’ Comp After Criticizing NFL Concussion Suits, Darras Discusses WHY Players are Fighting Back

A player's career lasts just 3.9 seasons, disability lawyer to the pros provides analysis on AB 1309 and offers advice to athletes

September 11, 2013

During the pregame show before the Super Bowl in February, Deion Sanders shared his thoughts about the thousands of former players filing concussion lawsuits against the NFL.

"The game is a safe game. I don't buy all these guys coming back with these concussions. I'm not buying all that. Half these guys are trying to make money off the deal," said Sanders, a Hall of Fame cornerback and former Dallas Cowboys player.

What Sanders didn't mention was that he has a pending workers' compensation claim that he filed more than two years earlier for head trauma and other injuries sustained while playing for the Dallas Cowboys. He allegedly filed the claim in California in November 2010 after the Division of Workers' Compensation determined him to be 86 percent disabled. Four doctors apparently diagnosed him with more than a dozen medical conditions, including cognitive impairment, behavioral/emotional disorder, arthritis, and arousal disorder (sleep impairment). See Deion Sanders, critic of NFL concussion suits, seeks workers' comp, LA Times, September 5, 2013.

According to investigations conducted by the LA Times, since 2006 almost 4,400 athletes had filed workers compensation claims in California "alleging serious brain or head injuries, with nearly 80 percent of them coming from former football players." By some estimates, it could cost NFL teams as much as $1 billion to resolve the workers' compensation claims pending against them in California.

"These players are finally fighting back. They are standing up and saying the way the NFL treats concussions and other brain injuries is not ok. It's time for the NFL to start taking responsibility. These players were not receiving the treatment they needed and played through concussion after concussion," says Frank N. Darras, disability insurance attorney to the pros.

California lawmakers are taking notice of the vast number of claims from players who played for teams outside of California. Legislation is headed to the Governor's desk today. If approved and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, it would exclude professional football, baseball, ice hockey, basketball and soccer players from making most new workers' compensation claims if they did not play for California teams. It also limits the time frame for submitting a workers' compensation claim thereby preventing players who file claims for cumulative injuries that build up over the course of their career and don't present themselves until decades later from pursuing workers' compensation in California. (Bill limiting workers' comp claims by athletes is sent to governor, LA times, September 9, 2013)

According to a recent Washington Post article, "The NFL's health insurance lasts five years after retirement - players who lasted fewer than three seasons don't qualify for it all - leaving players whose injuries develop years after their careers ended with very few options. The average NFL player's career lasts just 3.9 seasons, according to the NFL Players Association's latest figures. Studies show that one in four retirees will need a joint replacement; they suffer arthritis at five times the rate of their peers and are four times as likely to suffer neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's or ALS". (Do no harm: Who should bear the costs of retired NFL players' medical bills? Washington Post, May 9, 2013.)

"Bills like AB 1309 are taking away worker's rights. It's easy to support this bill by arguing that player's made so much money and shouldn't use taxpayer money to pay for injuries they brought on themselves. But not all professional players make the kind of money that Peyton Manning or Tom Brady make. There are players who are 30 years old, have the rest of their lives ahead of them, are crippled with disability and the amount they made during 1 season in the NFL isn't going to touch the avalanche of medical expenses," says Darras.