Senators release The College Athletes Bill of Rights, hoping to protect athletes amid COVID and beyond
While fans of college football in Louisiana are anticipating a Fall return to the field for the LSU Tigers, it remains to be seen exactly how the games will be played and officials are weighing in, nationwide, with their perspectives on the situation.
On Thursday morning, a group of U.S. senators released a list of items they see as important rights belonging to college athletes that they hope to protect or enforce with federal laws, ESPN reports.
In addition to this, Coronavirus Task Force collaborator, Dr. Deborah Birx repeated a message she'd shared with LSU's Head Football Coach, Ed Orgeron, during a recent interview with Gray Television Washington Bureau Chief Jacqueline Policastro.
“They can, as great coaches, coach their team members on what they need to do every day to protect themselves,” Birx said. “Because one slip means infection in the team.”
Birx also offered her advice on what football players should do in order to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
“When they travel, or when they’re in school, they need to do what I do,” Birx said. “I don’t come out of this mask. When I travel around the United States, I’ve not become COVID positive. I stay in hotels, I dine out, I do all the things that American people are doing. But I do them ultra-carefully.”
While Birx's remarks touched on how players can protect themselves in upcoming seasons, quite a few U.S. Senators are concerned with the way college athletes are treated and so they're focused on legislation that will streamline the way in which colleges make an effort to protect their athletes.
The Senators released The College Athletes Bill of Rights, Thursday, in hopes of providing athletes with a larger voice in the rule-making process, stronger health and safety standards, extended access to educational opportunities and more ways to make money -- including revenue-sharing agreements similar to those in professional sports.
These items were created to serve as a framework for ongoing conversations about legislation as Congress becomes increasingly involved in imposing new rules on college sports in the coming year, according to Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who spearheaded the effort to create the bill of rights.
"It is long past time that the NCAA should have acted on these issues," Booker told reporters. "I'm looking for legislation to obligate the universities to have rules that protect athletes."
NCAA president Mark Emmert and other college sports stakeholders asked Congress earlier this year to help them by creating a law that would set a nationwide standard for how athletes can make money from third-party endorsement deals, commonly referred to as name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. Multiple states have recently passed NIL laws that contain differences.
Emmert and others believe those differences will create an unequal playing field in college sports. The NCAA has asked for a uniform federal law that places some restrictions on NIL opportunities for athletes.
To effectively preempt those state laws, Congress will need to act by July 2021. In a series of hearings this year, several members of Congress have made it clear that they want the NCAA to dramatically increase the benefits college athletes receive if federal lawmakers are going to provide help. Thursday's bill of rights provides the most concrete list of those increased benefits to date.
Their proposal would seek ways to:
• Allow athletes to market their NIL rights in individual deals and group licensing arrangements with minimal restrictions;
• Create revenue-sharing agreements with associations, conference and schools that result in "fair and equitable compensation;"
• Develop "evidence-based health, safety and wellness standards" that come with penalties if they are not followed;
• Provide athletes with "commensurate lifetime scholarships" and comprehensive healthcare coverage for sport-related injuries;
• Increase transparency by mandating schools to provide more detailed reports of their athletic revenues and expenses;
• Ban any restrictions or penalties associated with transferring from one school to another;
• Establish a commission made up of current and former college athletes along with other experts to provide a meaningful voice for athletes in the decision-making process for college sports.
Along with Booker and Blumenthal, at least nine other senators, including Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy, signed on to support the bill of rights. Murphy has been one of the more outspoken critics of the NCAA in the past few years.
Both Blumenthal and Booker said that recent player-led movements to demand similar rights has had a significant impact on the amount of interest they have been able to generate among their peers in Congress.
"Athletes deserve a lot of credit for coming forward and advocating for themselves in a thoughtful and incisive way," Blumenthal told reporters. "The activism of the players has greatly heightened the interest and momentum on Capitol Hill. The athletes have stature."
Last week, before the Pac-12 postponed its fall season, a group of football players from the conference announced their intention to sit out of practices and games if the league didn't address a list of their concerns.
The players' list and the bill of rights published Thursday include many of the same items.
Players from the Big Ten Conference followed suit before their season was postponed with a similar announcement focused on health concerns, and earlier this week a group of players from all five major conferences declared that it wanted to establish a players association that would allow them to negotiate for more rights in the future.
Booker, who played football at Stanford, said he admires the courage of the players who have spoken up because they risk losing their standing on their teams by doing so. Booker and Blumenthal both said they support the idea of players forming some type of organization that can help advocate for them. The proposal they made Thursday was supported by the United Steelworkers union as well as several groups that advocate for the rights of athletes.
The Pac-12 players who made demands last week said that revenue-sharing agreements that compare to what happens in pro sports is a way to rectify racial injustice in a system where many athletes in revenue-generating sports are minorities.
"These are athletes that help to generate incredible amounts of money," Booker said. "And personnel -- coaches and beyond -- are reaping significant salaries from their labors. It is, to me, exploitative to have people creating wealth but they see no revenue from that whatsoever. And you have a disproportionate number of workers who are black and brown people."
Booker said he believes the senators are sending a "clear message" that if the NCAA wants a federal NIL law passed in the coming year that it will have to include provisions for these other items as well. Booker, Blumenthal and Murphy all said that the coronavirus and the push for racial justice this summer have made the inequities and civil rights issues in college sports impossible to ignore.
"This isn't radical thinking," Murphy said in a statement. "It's just the right thing to do."
Other politicians have expressed concerns that Congress may be stepping too far outside its comfort zone if tries to enact expansive reforms in college athletics. Congressman Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) told ESPN earlier this week that he doesn't think federal lawmakers should be involved in governing college sports beyond providing a guideline for NIL deals. Gonzalez, a former college and NFL football player, has been working on drafting a version of NIL legislation for the past several months.
"I think Congress can handle the NIL issue, [but] if we open it up to every issue that exists in college sports I don't think we'll make it better," he said. "I think we'd probably make it worse."
Booker and Blumenthal both said they remain confident that they can generate bipartisan support despite all of the senators who signed on initially coming from the Democratic Party.
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