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Insurance: Athletes Hedge Career Bets

July 12, 1985|GARY LIBMAN

When Dave Williams was catching 101 passes and was being chosen All-American at the University of Illinois last season, he didn't worry about a career-ending injury. But his father worried enough for both of them.

"One time my father made the comment that he wouldn't let me go back to school unless I got insurance," the wide receiver from Serra High in Gardena said from his home in Champaign, Ill. "I don't know how serious he was, but he said it."

National Football League scouts had said that Williams could be a first-round choice in their player draft this winter, and Williams realized that he would get hit hard five or six times a game during his senior year this fall.

So the 6-foot-4, 197-pound receiver began to consider a $1-million Lloyd's of London policy to protect against a career-ending injury.

Williams--whose brother, Oliver, and cousin, Phil Smith, are wide receivers for the Indianapolis Colts--mentioned his situation to his coach, Mike White, who said "he would find out the details (of the policy). . . . He knows the things I'll be doing."

Bought Protection

White recommended the insurance to Williams, who played a year at Harbor Junior College in Wilmington before transferring to Illinois, and to Illinois quarterback Jack Trudeau of Livermore, Calif., another potential No. 1 draft pick.

Last April both players borrowed more than $11,000 to buy the policy, which pays for a career-ending injury during the 15 months before each athlete attends his first professional training camp next summer.

Williams and Trudeau bought the same protection as athletes including University of Iowa quarterback Chuck Long and former University of Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar, who signed last week with Cleveland of the NFL.

Former University of Georgia running back Herschel Walker bought coverage in 1981 before joining the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League.

Although UCLA and USC officials say no players there have purchased the policies, their use is growing as athletes try to protect against the loss of increasingly lucrative salaries in professional sports.

The insurance is purchased by only the "top echelon of professional prospects who have proven value as far as professional (sports is concerned)," said John Leavens, director of the legislative services committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.

The NCAA spurred the sale of the policies last January when it passed a rule that an athlete could buy them by borrowing money from a lending institution.

The NCAA hoped that the rule would keep star athletes in school for another year, especially basketball players who can sign up for the National Basketball Assn. draft after each season of college eligibility. Draft requirements in football and baseball are more stringent.

The NCAA prohibited coaches and agents from buying the insurance--coaches so they would not use it to keep athletes in school and agents so they would not use it to gain control over an athlete before the time in his career when it became legal.

The buying of insurance by college players coincides with a similar move among professionals.

As the Stakes Rise

Although golfer Arnold Palmer insured himself against a career-ending injury as early as the 1950s, many more athletes buy policies now as athletic salaries and the stakes of athletic careers escalate.

Player agents and insurance representatives say that many contracts in professional baseball and basketball are guaranteed, but that most football contracts are not, so that the policies can be particularly helpful to NFL players.

In baseball and basketball the policies are typically used by young players who have not yet signed long-term, guaranteed contracts.

"It's a good vehicle to guarantee protecting an athlete during a transitional period," said Ron Shapiro, the Baltimore agent for California Angels third baseman Doug DeCinces and others.

When the Baltimore Orioles visited Japan last winter, Shapiro took out a three-month policy on pitcher Mike Boddiker, 27, who won 20 games and lost only 11 in 1984, for $500,000, the anticipated worth of Boddiker's contract the following season.

Avoiding Jeopardy

Without such a policy, the athlete can be in jeopardy. Quarterback Bert Jones of the Rams retired in 1983 after an injury that required surgeons to remove a ruptured cervical disk and fuse two broken vertebrae in the neck area.

Jones was covered for a career-ending injury and collected, according to John Jemison, owner of Sports Insurance International Services in Houston, Tex. The policy paid $1 million, a source said.

A 1981 car accident paralyzed center Landon Turner and ended his career a few months after his University of Indiana team won the NCAA championship. Turner received minimal help from his own auto insurance policy and his father's hospital-medical coverage.

In 1978, a collision with Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum paralyzed New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley and ended his career.

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