Drew Brees explains his opposition to workers’ compensation measure

Drew Brees’ explanation for opposing a measure that would affect workers’ compensation benefits for professional athletes in Louisiana — a measure his own team supports — is a simple one.

“In my life, I’ve had five surgeries,” Brees said at a charity softball game hosted by Saints guard Ben Grubbs in Metairie on Wednesday night. “And it’s all been because of the game of football.”

Brees declined to disclose how many of those operations have been while with the Saints, instead saying, “I don’t think about it. I just play ball and try to win.”

Brees, who hasn’t missed a game because of injury, has won the franchise’s only Super Bowl, made its two NFC Championship Game appearances, clinched three of its five division titles and made half of its 10 playoff trips all-time.

While he said he wouldn’t trade his 14-year career for the world and understands injuries are inherent to football, Brees added: “One thing that’s just nonnegotiable is worker’s compensation and player health and safety.

“We put ourselves at ... great risk every time we step on the field, every time we step in the weight room and as we train.”

Passed in the Louisiana House of Representatives recently and awaiting Senate consideration, the bill seeks to calculate workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits for hurt professional athletes on earnings up to the point of an injury — and not for earnings that would have been made if not for an injury.

The bill, which the Saints lobbied for, would not affect any of the medical and injury benefits NFL players are entitled to under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. It would pertain to additional wage-loss benefits injured employees in Louisiana are entitled to under state law.

The bill’s language is based on rulings from a state circuit court of appeal in Jefferson Parish. Those rulings determined that workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits for hurt professional athletes should be calculated on earnings up to the point of an injury — and not for earnings that would have been made if not for an injury.

The NFL players union points out that those rulings were made in one jurisdiction — where the Saints’ administrative headquarters and training facilities are. In a ruling from a state circuit court of appeal in Orleans Parish, where the Saints play their home games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it was found an injured football player’s workers’ compensation should take his yearly salary into account, as it would all others employed by an annual contract.

In the NFL, multi-year contracts involve steep annual raises, and they’re mostly paid during regular seasons that typically run from early September to late December. Players during the offseason and preseason are usually paid daily allowances that are much smaller than earnings during the regular season.

Therefore, if the bill becomes law, the possibility exists that players who are hurt during the preseason would see the workers’ compensation they’re due be calculated from the daily allowances paid and not from their larger salary under the contract.

Brees used to sit on the NFL players union executive committee and unsurprisingly sides with that group. So do Saints teammates such as running back Mark Ingram and tight end Benjamin Watson.

Ingram and Watson, who was recently a candidate to be the players union president, expressed their disapproval of their bill in statements.

Though he’s led the Saints through the most successful era in team history, Brees has previously opposed owners’ interests such as when the CBA adopted in 2011 was being negotiated.

“Your ability to make the team in the fall is dependent on your ability to perform and put yourself at risk in the offseason and the preseason,” Brees said. “If you get hurt (at those times), then your wage-loss compensation should be based upon your regular-season salary and not basically the (daily allowances) that we make during the offseason.”

He added: “We get paid during the season, but we prepare and sacrifice during the offseason to make the team.”