YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Joe Montana Leads Offense on Workers' Comp Bill

Legislature: Former NFL star denounces measure that would restrict or ban assistance to injured professional athletes.


SACRAMENTO — In a new role as a Capitol lobbyist, football great Joe Montana on Tuesday handed team owners a first-half beating in their attempt to restrict or eliminate workers' compensation to injured pro players.

The popular retired superstar quarterback was mobbed for autographs by squealing schoolchildren, tourists and members of the Capitol air-conditioning crew as he set out to kill a bill sponsored by the NFL owners.

Montana was supported by squads of former NFL players, labor leaders and attorneys at a crowded news conference where they denounced the bill (SB 541) by Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco).

Then, Montana, who retired in 1995, and his lobbying corps fanned out throughout the building. Minutes later, Kopp announced that he will abandon the bill, at least until Jan. 5, the start of the second half of the legislative session.

Kopp conceded that the celebrity status of Montana forced his retreat.

"Celebrities usually have an effect . . . on legislators and the public," said Kopp, a potential candidate for attorney general next year.

Kopp said he intends to examine how other states have handled the issue and return with an amended bill.

Kopp introduced his proposal after a report in the San Diego Union Tribune in August that Montana, Bill Walton, Bo Jackson and other wealthy retired professional athletes had filed for workers' compensation benefits for "cumulative" injuries suffered during their professional careers.

No funds from general taxpayers are involved in the dispute. Critics charge that the athletes are abusing an employer-financed, no-fault insurance system meant to compensate workers for income lost as the result of on-the-job injuries. They charge that the California system is especially favored by athletes from outside the state because it offers higher benefits.

But Montana, NFL Players Assn. President Gene Upshaw, a former Oakland Raider, and their supporters denied that they had abused the system. They charged that the Kopp bill was merely a ploy by owners to wiggle out of their obligations under a collective bargaining contract with the players.

"What the NFL owners are attempting with the legislators of this state . . . is to change the rules that we negotiated with the owners," Upshaw said.

The Kopp bill--which would apply to virtually all professional athletes in California--would make injured team members from other states ineligible for California benefits. It would also make California players ineligible for "cumulative injury" benefits.

Montana, once the highest paid player in the NFL, suffered severe and highly publicized injuries, and filed for workers' compensation shortly after he retired. He said Tuesday that he has not been paid.

At the news conference, Montana conceded that as a player who was paid millions, "it may be a little unfair for me to be standing here." But he said he was representing lesser-known athletes whose brief careers were cut short by injuries and had no recourse but workers' compensation.

"How do they go about getting insurance, correct the rest of their lives and walk straight?" Montana said. "You may never have heard their names, but they are out there suffering just as much as I am."

He accused the owners of falsely making him the "poster child" of workers' compensation abuse by wealthy athletes. Nobody complains, Montana said, when injured millionaire corporate executives apply for workers' compensation.

Los Angeles Times Articles