Stockton Record: Is the state's system being gamed?
Years ago, a high school football coach hung a sign outside his office: "Football is not a contact sport. Dancing is a contact sport. Football is a collision sport."
And so it is. Just ask players in the National Football League. Many have had their careers shortened by collisions on the field. Many suffer a lifetime of health problems as a result of the battering they take.
To be sure, athletes in other professional sports also suffer injuries, some that are severe and career-ending.
But football players are especially vulnerable because of the size, speed and intensity of those few who make it to the NFL.
They chose to be there; they know the risks, although the more we learn about the head trauma some suffer the more obvious it is how little we know about the long-term consequences.
Still, it is shocking that California's workers' compensation system has paid some $747 million of dollars in benefits for job-related injuries to about 4,500 professional athletes since 1980.
The vast majority of those compensated played for out-of-state teams; some played as little as one game in California.
• California taxpayers do not pay the benefits. Workers' compensation is an employer-funded program.
• Under California's system, created a century ago, anyone employed in the state for any period of time can be eligible for benefits for medical expenses and compensated for work-related disabilities.
If you come here, say, as an oil field worker from Texas and are injured your first day on your job, you can claim benefits.
But what sets California apart from most states is its longer window to file a claim and that this state's system provides additional payments for the cumulative effect of injuries that occur over years of playing.
And that's where it gets sticky. You've got to ask if the California system should be the benefit bank of last resort for well-paid professional out-of-state athletes who have exhausted the benefits paid by their home state or the state where they played most of their career.
Others are asking that too, among them state lawmakers. While taxpayers aren't directly on the hook for these costs, an insurance system subject to being gamed ends up costing all consumers.
These huge claims clog the system and contribute to higher insurance bills for all California employers because more claims leads to higher rates.
When someone is hurt on the job — and being a professional athlete is a job — employer-paid workers' compensation is there to help make the injured worker whole.
But California's system is badly out of step with the systems other states use.
Because it is, this state becomes the cash cow being milked by some at the end of their professional careers.
That's not fair to California employers who fund the system or to the millions of Californians who could never even dream of having a seven-figure payday.
Legislation is being drafted to protect athletes on California's professional teams but to limit the exposure of those teams to big claims by out-of-state players.