Former Bengals linebacker Reggie Williams is 58 years old. He played for 14 years, all with the Bengals. In that period of time, he sacked the opposing quarterback 41 times, picked off 16 passes, forced two fumbles and recovered 23 of them. He also scored two touchdowns, one on an interception return and one on a fumble recovery.
Now Williams can barely walk. He uses crutches to get around and has had surgery on his right knee 24 times. That knee is now so big it's hard to see where it begins and his thigh stops. Williams, the NFL's Man of the Year in '86 and Sports Illustrated's co-Sportsman of the Year in '87, is now in Washington, knee fully exposed, fighting for worker's comp for himself and players like him.
He's hoping to convince others to vote no on AB 1309, which would stop pro athletes from filing workers comp claims in the state of California if it were to pass.
The fight over workers comp reform for pro athletes isn't new. It has taken place in Florida, Arizona and Louisiana, to name a few states. The battle in California is significant, however, because it's often regarded as the state of last resort, meaning out-of-state players who weren't informed of their workers comp rights by their teams -- or who had physical or cognitive issues surface after the statute of limitation lapsed in their home states -- could have their cases heard in California, one of only nine states that recognizes what's known as "cumulative trauma," wear-and-tear injuries or conditions sustained from their jobs.
There are those who believe the bill should pass because they believe it would close a loophole that allows former players to "double-dip" by filing in California and their home states. In some cases, players would be allowed to file in California without every playing there.
However, for players like fullback Lorenzo Neal, another former Bengals player, the bill passing would hurt. Neal played five seasons for the Chargers, but because he finished his rough 16-year career in a state other than California, he could be denied the right to file for workers comp there.
A big part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was for the league to take better care of veterans upon retirement. However, there isn't a ton of help available for some of the league's older players, like Williams, from the '70s and '80s.
"I'm not here to tell you there aren't any abuses of the system, but I am here to tell you there are many players who are worse off than me, and the severity of my knee is only going to get worse," Williams says. "I'm going to have to live with it regardless of anyone's decision. The question is, is a judge who will listen to a fair hearing and at least provide some assistance and (and hold accountable) my former employer, for whom I played faithfully for 14 years. You've got to have a forum. If California is not the forum and there are no other forums then there's nothing left for me other than the ultimate unfolding of Obamacare."