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Montana lobbies for workers comp benefits for pro athletes

May 14, 1997

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Joe Montana’s showdown with the NFL over workers’ compensation benefits for injured professional athletes won’t be played out until next year.

The author of a bill backed by the NFL and opposed by Montana and several labor groups put off a vote on the measure until January. It had been scheduled to be heard today by a Senate committee.

Action on a second bill aimed at pro athletes’ workers comp benefits was postponed earlier until 1998.

Robert Forsyth, a spokesman for one of the groups opposed to the bills, the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, said the delay will give proponents 7 1/2 more months to line up support. ``We consider those bills to be still quite alive,″ he added.

Workers’ compensation provides benefits, including medical treatment and cash payments, for workers who suffer job-related injuries. Payments are made by employers.

Montana, the great quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, appeared at a news conference Tuesday with several other current or former NFL players, to criticize bills by Sens. Quentin Kopp and Ross Johnson.

Kopp’s bill, which was scheduled to be heard today by the Industrial Relations Committee, would make athletes who played for out-of-state teams ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits in California, even if they now live in the state.

It also would deny workers’ comp benefits for cumulative injuries suffered by pro players and require workers’ comp payments to be offset by any injury benefits available under a team’s collective bargaining agreement.

Johnson’s bill would deny benefits to athletes making more than $225,000 a year, his office said.

Supporters describe the bills as an attempt to restrict benefits to athletes who are often highly paid and knowingly accept the risk of injury.

But opponents say the measures are an unfair attack on one group of workers, many of whom don’t receive huge salaries or who suffer career-ending injuries after a few seasons.

Frank Russo, president-elect of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, which represents workers’ comp claimants, said the money to pay the NFL’s share of workers’ comp contributions comes from the players’ share of team revenue.

``It’s not fair to Joe Montana or the bottom guy on the roster to take away this benefit that he is basically paying for himself,″ Russo said.

Montana said he filed for workers comp about a year ago and complained that team owners had turned him into the ``poster boy″ for their campaign for the Kopp bill.

``Forget about me,″ he said. ``Forget about all the surgeries..., or how much money I make or how much money it would cost me ... (for health) insurance.

``This is about all those guys with average careers of three to four years who retire with an injury,″ he added, telling reporters about seeing other former players who are unable to climb stairs without assistance.

Kopp said that players who don’t play for California teams shouldn’t be able to file for workers’ comp in California even if they live here. ``The reason they use the California system is obviously because the benefits are higher,″ he said.

He said the bill’s ban on cumulative injury benefits was justified by the fact that athletes know they play dangerous games. ``It’s tantamount to assumption of risk,″ he added.

``Their claims increase the (workers’ compensation) premiums for other employers in other businesses.″

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