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The real cost of professional sports: A lifetime of medical bills that nobody wants to pay

Friday, May 31, 2013 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: NFL, professional sports, medical costs

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(NaturalNews) To the casual onlooker, it is a glamorous line of work typified by fame, fortune, and of course the myriad sounds of tens of thousands of screaming, exuberant fans at every game. But playing professional sports for a living is not quite as appealing when the long-term physical costs of repeatedly hauling a ball across the field and being tackled by large men catches up with you in the form of enormous medical bills, which more often than not nobody is willing to pay.

This is the subject of a recent investigation by The Washington Post (WP), which found that there are literally thousands of former professional athletes, particularly within the NFL (National Football League), that are struggling through injuries for which they allegedly cannot pay. Particularly those athletes whose careers ended decades ago, the cash flow is simply no longer there to foot the bill for knee surgeries and joint replacements, according to some. And the NFL is apparently quite good at skirting medical claims and avoiding having to pay for former athletes' injuries.

"All they've done is fought me on everything," says Reggie Williams, former NFL Man of the Year, about his battle with the league. According to the WP, Williams has had so many surgeries on his right knee that his entire right leg is about three inches shorter than his left leg. He has had to have multiple knee replacements, and is now battling a bone infection that may require taking antibiotics for the rest of his life, and that has already cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in out of pocket costs to maintain.

"My concern is that there is going to be another operation," he adds, as quoted by the WP. "And I'm totally uninsured right now."

Many former NFL players resort to Social Security, Medicare to pay for their medical bills

In most cases, former NFL players are only covered for the first five years after retiring for injuries resulting from their careers. But many long-term injuries do not surface until long after this five-year period. And beyond this, the NFL has a dirty habit of evading workers' compensation claims altogether, rejecting about 60 percent of them on average. For players who garnered and saved millions of dollars from their careers this is not necessarily a problem. But for past players, many of whom made far less than today's players or who played for too short a time to make much money, the financial burden is insurmountable.

"What can you know about any of the long-term debilitative effects of playing football in five years?" says Williams, who says his ever-declining health is a direct result of his NFL career.

In response, NFL officials claim that its workers' compensation benefits are generous, and that former players have numerous options at their disposal to cover medical costs. But others insist this is simply not the case, and that in the long run, taxpayers end up footing the bill.

"It's cost shifting," says Dennis Curran, Vice President of Labor Litigation at the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), which represents former NFL players. "It's shifted to the U.S. government and Social Security. If the teams will not pay, or the insurance companies won't pay for work-related injuries, where do the guys go?"

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