January 29, 2007 The Pump Handle 3Comment

by Les Boden

Yesterday’s Washington Post has a long story about Mercury Morris, star running back of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated team in modern NFL history. Morris’ neck was broken in a 1973 game on national television, and he has had significant physical and emotional problems ever since. He also has been fighting, unsuccessfully, for work-related disability payments for twenty years.

Given his fame, it isn’t surprising that Mercury Morris’s struggle to obtain the benefits he deserves gets newspaper coverage. Most workers with job-related disabilities are quickly forgotten, except by their families who bear the burden of taking care of them and making up for lost income. But Morris’ frustration with the system is similar in many ways to the experience of many disabled workers. Many who are disabled by job-related injuries never fully recover, at least not financially. Even though the workers’ comp system is supposed to cover medical costs and most lost wages, a study published by RAND demonstrated that injured workers and their families suffer substantial losses and that the benefits they get don’t come close to matching the losses they suffer – averaging 30% to 46% of lost earnings for workers with permanently disabling injuries.

And this doesn’t include the large number who never receive compensation at all. A recent study of Michigan workplace injuries by Ken Rosenman and his colleagues at the University of Michigan concluded that less than 2/3 of eligible injured workers received any workers’ comp benefits. Part of the reason that many never receive benefits to which they are entitled is that they face the same barriers that Mercury Morris experienced. Claims are denied, medical treatment is disapproved, payments are delayed. Injured workers experience the system as demeaning and frustrating (See: The Workers’ Compensation System: Worker Friend or Foe?). Many give up. Few of them, and few of us, have the single-mindedness and endurance of Mercury Morris.

Les Boden, PhD, is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health. Dr. Boden is a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and has been an active member of Federal advisory committees for both the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Energy.

3 thoughts on “A Star Running Back Stopped by a Different Kind of Defense

  1. With regards to professional sports, it seems like we will certainly be hearing more stories like this. Just last week the San Francisco Chronicle did a short piece on former greats of the 49ers (Montana, Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, and others) who are struggling in their 40s and 50s. The recent publicity on this suggests the NFL would rather sweep this under the rug. One side effect of this may be that superstars may start to bring attention to the overall issue for the average American.

    The link to the SF story, it is worth reading – “Glory has its price…”

  2. Sorry for the double post, but in the lead up to the Super Bowl, I just happened to see another article on the long term occupational hazards of playing in the NFL.

    Excerpt from – Dan Wetzel column at Yahoo! –

    “Or Willie Wood, a Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer, who played in the first two Super Bowls no less, currently struggling with a mountain of medical bills from myriad surgeries to repair back, neck, spine and hip problems almost all assuredly related to the violence of football.

    Or Herb Adderley, another of those old Packers, who is so disgusted at his $126.85 per month pension in the face of all the NFL’s profits that he refuses to wear his Super Bowl or Hall of Fame rings anymore. ”

    Aman (thdblog.wordpress.com)

  3. The action taken to national disaster is noble but it’s a damn shame that so many people take advantage of the negative situations.

    I mean everytime there is an earthquake, a flood, an oil spill – there’s always a group of heartless people who rip off tax payers.

    This is in response to reading that 4 of Oprah Winfreys “angels” got busted ripping off the system. Shame on them!

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