The executive directors of the NFL, NBA, NHL Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer players associations all signed onto a letter raising concerns about the liability protections included in the Senate Republican proposal introduced last week.
The Republican proposal, put together by McConnell and GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, is designed to provide a temporary legal safe harbor for businesses, schools, health care providers and nonprofits that make reasonable efforts to comply with public health guidelines and don’t demonstrate gross negligence. Defendants would have the right to move suits to a federal court, which would cover the period from December 2019 until 2024.
“We question whether any such type of special immunity is warranted at all, as there has been no showing that state laws are inadequate,” the players associations state, according to the letter obtained by CNN, which is addressed to the top four leaders of Congress — including McConnell. “There is still much that is unknown about this disease, how it spreads, and the long-term consequences of exposure. It makes little sense during these uncertain times to both ask employees to return to work and, at the same time, accept all the risk for doing so.”
The letter comes as negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on the next coronavirus relief legislation remain at a standstill — and as the sports leagues grapple with the difficulties and realities of attempting to return to the field and court in the middle of a pandemic.
The players associations took issue with the structure of the proposal.
“The introduced language by Senate Republicans, as we understand it, would federalize all COVID-19 work claims and provide employers with an immunity that is so broad that not even egregious behavior would be actionable,” the letter states.
That read of the legislation, however, is one Cornyn’s office disputes. The legislation explicitly does not provide liability protections for those who engage in willful misconduct or grossly negligent behavior, providing a tighter scope on the bill’s safe harbor than the players association asserts.
McConnell, for months, has been clear that any new emergency relief proposal must include the liability protections, calling it his “red line.”
“No bill will pass the Senate without liability protection for everyone related to the coronavirus,” the Kentucky Republican said last month. “Nobody should have to face an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic that we already have related to the coronavirus.”
Democrats have made clear they have major problems with the proposal, though haven’t dismissed the possibility that some version of it could end up in a final deal. For now, however, the players associations have come down firmly against the idea.
“We understand there are no perfect solutions, at least not yet,” the players associations wrote. “At the same time, we also recognize the importance for the country for many of us to return to work, and to find ways to return to the office, the factory, and arenas and stadiums. We do not believe, however, that the risk of doing so should be borne exclusively by employees.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.