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Annals of Workers Comp: The Gladiator’s Lament
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Annals of Workers Comp: The Gladiator’s Lament

There are two famous former athletes in the news, both once known for their prowess on the field and ice, now notable for their shocking cognitive and physical declines. In the context of the pending Super Bowl, it's a sober reminder of the price athletes often pay for participation in contact sports.

Mark Gastineu was part of the New York Jets Sack Exchange: a powerful defensive end who terrorized quarterbacks in the 1980s with his speed and relentless energy. He was famous for dancing over the bodies of sacked quarterbacks. These days his energy and focus are depleted, as he recently announced that he is facing the dark double team of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. As a former player in the National Football League, he is likely eligible for benefits under the league's concussion settlement. After years of denial, the NFL has finally acknowledged that there is indeed a relationship between on-field collisions and subsequent brain disease.

Falling on Ice

Benefits are not so readily available to former hockey players. Mike Peluso achieved fame less as a skater and more as a fighter for the New Jersey Devils. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, he was a big man for the sport. In the course of four seasons, he had over 100 fights. In December 1993, he suffered a concussion during a fight with Tony Twist of the Nordiques. He fought again a week later with Ken Baumgartner of the Maple Leafs. He became disoriented, forgetting the names of his teammates. A week later, cleared to play (bad medicine!), he fought Dean Chenoweth of the NY Islanders. The fans undoubtedly cheered him on.

Peluso now suffers from frequent grand mal seizures. At 49, he faces a bleak and time-limited future. But he's protected by workers comp - or so you might think. The NHL's insurer has denied his claim, alleging that his seizure problems are the result of "lack of sleep, partying, dehydrations, binge drinking and failure to take medicine." All of which might be true - he was, after all, a hockey player - but this in no way negates his legitimate claim for work-related benefits.

In college Peluso was a skilled skater; fighting was not a primary part of the game. But when he entered the NHL, he was assigned the role of intimidator, ever ready to drop the gloves in a New York minute. There were plenty of cheers back then, but now he hears only the ticking of the clock, winding down toward the buzzer at the end of the game. 

Jon Coppelman
Senior Workers Compensation Consultant

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