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A former Pittsburgh Steeler lost his bid Wednesday to overturn a part of the Pennsylvania state workers’ compensation law that limits benefits for professional athletes. A Commonwealth Court panel rejected former tight end and special teams player Mitch Lyons’ challenge, saying the law didn’t discriminate against professional athletes. Lyons’ career ended Dec. 18, 1999, during a game against the Kansas City Chiefs when he was hit in the knee by an opposing player as he returned a kickoff. He now works for a financial management firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he makes $50,000, about one-eighth of what he earned during his last year with the Steelers. He also gets $117 a week in workers’ compensation benefits. Lyons challenged a section of the 1993 Pennsylvania workers’ compensation reform law that limits benefits for partially disabled players from four major sports — the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and baseball. Those players, who make eight times the statewide average pay, are given credit in compensation calculations amounting to twice the statewide average weekly pay. Attorneys for Lyons and the NFL Players Association argued that the restriction violated equal protection guarantees in the state and federal constitutions because it excluded paid players in sports such as soccer or lacrosse, or in minor league hockey and baseball. The attorneys also said the exemption applies to only the players, while front-office personnel, coaches and trainers for the teams — some of whom are just as highly paid — are fully covered. But the five-judge panel found that professional athletes in those four sports intentionally engage in work activities that carry a high risk of injury. “While other occupations are also rewarded for facing risk, professional athletes employed in the major professional sports represent a distinctive blend of risk combined with lucrative compensation,” the court ruled. Lyons’ lawyer Edward J. Abes said he would appeal to the state supreme court. “We feel this decision is just totally unreasoned,” he said. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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