Most NFL players don't buy disability insurance

Most NFL players don't purchase disability insurance despite the risk of injury from playing professional football, according to insurance underwriters.

Many players are unwilling to pay for the coverage and are sometimes advised against buying it, said Chris Larcheveque, an executive vice president of International Specialty Insurance, one of four companies authorized by Lloyd's of London to underwrite these policies He estimates that only about 40 percent of NFL players have this coverage.

"A lot of guys who need it are rookies," Larcheveque said. "They don't want to spend $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 on insurance. It's a big chunk of money on something that is a safety net."

For some players, though, the benefits of playing football with a net can be huge. As Bleacher Report noted, former USC wide receiver Marqise Lee stands to collect $5 million on his insurance coverage because a knee injury resulted in his getting drafted in the second round of last week's NFL draft, instead of the first as had been widely expected. Lee, who was picked by the Jacksonville Jaguars, had what is known as a "loss in value" rider in his policy that triggers a payout if an injury caused him to get a less valuable contract than expected.

Lee's USC teammate Morgan Breslin wasn't so lucky. Experts had expected him to be drafted in the first round, but he wound up not being selected at all. He has signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent," but the odds of making the NFL are long for him, making his benefit perhaps his only payoff for his years of football," Bleacher Report says.

Kurt Peterson of Peterson International Underwriters says that while disability coverage is uncommon in football, most players in the National Hockey League purchase it. NHL contacts are guaranteed only when players are hurt during a game. Players buy separate coverage to protect them when they are off the ice, Larcheveque said.

Fewer baseball and basketball players bother to buy disability insurance because their contracts are guaranteed. They tend to purchase this coverage when their contracts are coming to an end in case an injury lowers their value in free agency. Top European soccer stars also purchase this type of insurance.

"You really need to be coached and sold on it," Peterson said.

Last year, International Specialty Insurance underwrote policies for about 80 college football players, roughly one-third of which included loss in value riders. Peterson says his company provides coverage to a third of the NFL's first-round draft picks.

The NFL does provide limited disability coverage that offers benefits of about $180,000 after taxes. That's not enough to compensate an injured player for the wages they could have earned , according to Larcheveque.

An NFL spokeswoman referred questions about player insurance to the NFL Players Association. Union spokesman Carl Francis told MoneyWatch that it doesn't discourage players from buying the coverage. Player careers last an average of three and a half seasons and are often shortened by injury.

Amid the growing concern about health problems with current and former players, the NFL Players Association last year teamed with Harvard University for a $100 million study of 1,000 retired players. Earlier this year, a federal judge rejected a $765 million settlement between the NFL and former players over the health effects of concussions. Because of the dangers of head injuries, many parents are becoming increasingly reluctant to allow their children to play tackle football.

  • Jonathan Berr

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