Tag Archives: basketball

Coach K’s struggle with chronic pain

Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski has struggled with back pain

If you are a fan of college basketball, you probably know the accomplishments of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has led Duke University’s men’s basketball program for 35 years, including 4 national championships. What you might not know is that Coach K struggled with chronic back pain that culminated in a personal crisis twenty years ago, and a recent news article by Barry Jones for the News & Observer tells the story.

Coach K had back surgery for a ruptured disk in October of 1994 and was so eager to return to work that he didn’t take the necessary time to recover and he returned to work too soon. As his wife, Mickie, recounted, “Getting well was worse for him than being sick because he felt he had deserted his men.” She even had to give him an ultimatum: skip practice and see the doctor or don’t come home. In fact, his struggle got so bad that he decided to resign. Luckily, the athletic director convinced Coach K to take a leave of absence instead. “One of the things we’ve learned is the emotional toll that chronic pain takes. It just completely changes everything,” said Mickie.

Chronic pain can be devastating, physically and emotionally, and if it can take down Mike Krzyzewski and his family, imagine what it can do to the average working person. Employers, physicians and the injured employee should follow his eventual lead: listen to your body and get proper rest; don’t return to work sooner than you should; and don’t try to be superman.

Pro Athletes Need Worker’s Compensation Too

Today’s post comes to us from Tom Domer of Wisconsin.

Most of us do not associate a professional athlete’s injury with workers’ compensation. Because of pro athletes’ generous contract wages, and the relatively modest recoveries available under workers’ compensation, most fans don’t recognize that when it comes to receiving workers’ compensation, professional athletes are just like other office or factory workers who can recover worker’s compensation when injured.

Not every professional athlete, however, has a contract worth millions of dollars. Some of the athletes injured on minor league teams literally make no more than minimum wage, and receipt of workers’ compensation benefits is significant for those athletes.

Not every professional athlete, however, has a contract worth millions of dollars. Some of the athletes injured on minor league teams literally make no more than minimum wage, and receipt of workers’ compensation benefits is significant for those athletes. Wisconsin law places a cap on the amount of money an athlete can receive for his injury. The maximum weekly wage for 2012 is $1,281, yielding a temporary disability rate of $854. The right to workers’ compensation is contained in the collective bargaining agreements with the respective players unions in football, basketball and baseball. In Wisconsin, insurance companies charge employers like the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Milwaukee Bucks for workers’ compensation insurance.
Pro athletes regularly get hurt on the job, but few pursue workers’comp claims. In the ten years from 1994 through 2004 a total of 37 cases involving the Packers were litigated, and in the same period 20 cased involving the Brewers were contested. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, June 25, 2006 “Paying for Pain”) Cases that went to a hearing were even more rare : only four cases involving the Packers went to a hearing in that ten year period.

It’s a popular notion that athletes assume the risk of injury, since that is the nature of professional sports. Some states have bought into this concept and leave professional athletes unprotected.

Athletes apply for worker’s compensation largely for two reasons: vocational retraining and Loss of Earning Capacity. Many pro athletes have not completed college, or when they did, they were not scholars, so the only thing they know how to do is play sports. If they get wrecked and cannot play, they have to find a way to earn a living. Loss of Earning Capacity is measured by the player’s residual ability to earn a living considering the limitations of the injury.

It’s a popular notion that athletes assume the risk of injury, since that is the nature of professional sports. Some states have bought into this concept and leave professional athletes unprotected. In Pennsylvania recently the Courts ruled the Pittsburgh Steelers do not have to pay the attorney fees related to a former player’s workers’ compensation case, because although he clearly suffered injuries while with the team, the team argued he was not “disabled” since he continued to play for other pro teams. Pittsburgh Post Gazzette, April 24, 2012. All pro athletes are covered in Wisconsin.

Workers' Compensation and the NCAA's "Student Athlete"

One example of how the NCAA benefits economically from student athletes.

I grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C. and graduated from the University of North Carolina when the concept of big-time football was not an issue. In Chapel Hill the NCAA was known primarily for imposing sanctions on basketball and eliminating the Dixie Classic, a holiday tournament in the early 60’s which brought visiting teams to Raleigh to play UNC and N.C.State. Some folks still remember Oscar Robertson and a powerful Cincinnati team leaving after being defeated in that tournament.

Recently, the history of the NCAA has been explored in The Atlantic (October, 2011) in an article called “The Shame of College Sports” by Taylor Branch (a 1968 graduate of UNC). Interestingly, the role of workers’ compensation was discussed when explaining the need to give the NCAA a more solid foundation.

The Supreme Court of Colorado determined that workers’ compensation should be denied because the college was “not in the football business.”

The NCAA developed the term “student-athlete” in the 1950s “…when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury received while playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workmens’-compensation death benefits.” The Supreme Court of Colorado eventually determined that the claim should be denied because the college was “not in the football business.”

School officials said they recruited him as a student, not an athlete. Waldrep told Branch that was absurd.

In 1974 a Texas Christian running back, Kent Waldrep, was paralyzed after being tackled by several Alabama players at a game in Birmingham. TCU paid his medical bills for nine months and then stopped, and a workers’ compensation claim was eventually Continue reading