The topic of workers’ compensation for athletes is an interesting one. When you consider that some athletes are technically independent contractors, workers’ compensation shifts from interesting to equal parts hazy and dangerous. With the 2016 football season well underway and the recent excitement over several anticipated UFC fights, one might question what happens if their favorite fighter or linebacker gets seriously injured after stepping into their respective battleground.
Take for example that football players in the NFL are employees but for certain teams, their cheerleaders are independent contractors. In this situation, the cheerleaders are not covered under the same workers’ compensation policies as the football players. Wrestlers for the entertainment company WWE and fighters for mixed martial arts promotional company UFC are both classified as independent contractors as well. If they get hurt, they are not subject to the benefits provided by workers’ compensation-medical care, compensation for recovery time, etc. This is done through their own medical insurance and they can not file a claim against their company for workers’ compensation or, in a worse case scenario, social security disability.
In respect to the fighting networks, this seems especially controversial. The fact that they are independent contractors takes a lot of responsibility and liability off the shoulders of the entity signing them. In January of this year, WWE wrestler Nikki Bella underwent critical surgery on several vertebrae in her neck. The surgery was needed after a long history of repeating one specific move in the ring. She was in recovery for over 6 months, and it looked extremely likely that this would have been a career-ending injury. Swap out the celebrity and entertainment factors, and it’s what most normal independent contractors are concerned with when they go to work-house painters, Uber drivers, some electricians and plumbers, freelancers, and the like. Nikki Bella’s neck surgery could have been the average persons carpal tunnel, auditory issues, respiratory problems, or otherwise. However, actions are being taken to start protecting these kinds of workers. A bill was passed recently to protect freelancers living in New York City from wage theft.
The question of medical care for injuries is not the only thing that can be worrisome for this type of worker. They are under no obligation to be afforded the same rights as an employee would be, period. In an article on CNN Money, a group of fighters from UFC have attempted to sue the company for overreaching their authority over the individuals they contract, and treating them the way they would if the fighters were employees. In a lucky development for the fighters, UFC recently lost their appeal to have the anti-trust lawsuit thrown out. This same article states that UFC fighters and certain teams’ cheerleaders have a history of trying to unionize-albeit unsuccessfully. Again, if the celebrity fact
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