Government Sports

State Sen. Derek Slap Joins U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy to Support Rights of College Athletes

From left: State Sen. Derek Slap, University of New Haven Professor Allen Sack, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. Courtesy photo

State Sen. Derek Slap of West Hartford joined U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and University of New Haven Professor Allen Sack at a press conference as Murphy released the third installment of his report on college athletics.

By Ronni Newton

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) released his third and final report on problems with college athletics Monday, and was joined at a press conference in Hartford by State Sen. Derek Slap of West Hartford and University of New Haven Professor Allen Sack, a former Notre Dame football player and former president of the Drake Group, a think tank focused on reforming college sports.

Murphy’s report, “Madness, Inc.: How College Sports Can Leave Athletes Broken and Abandoned,examines the ways in which colleges and the NCAA neglect athletes’ health and provides several recommendations on how colleges and universities can make improvements to safeguard athletes’ health.

Slap, who has championed the issue of pay equity as a member of the legislature, both in the State House where he represented the 19th District and now in the State Senate, said, “Part of the reason I’ve been so interested in this is because I think it goes to the issue of pay equity, which is something I’ve been supporting for years. Especially here in Connecticut, I think women athletes stand to benefit just as much or more as our male athletes.”

The NCAA has forbidden college student athletes from profiting from the use of their name or likeness in paid advertisements, and although the NCAA has indicated plans to reform those rules, Slap believes that state and federal governments should work to ensure those rights, rather than leaving it up to the NCAA to protect the physical and financial heath of athletes.

“College sports rely on athletes to entertain and captivate us with their talent – putting their bodies on the line in the process. It’s only fair that in turn, we prioritize their health. But this report found the opposite,” Murphy said of his third report. “Too many athletes leave college sports with far less than they started. This is a result of coaches and trainers pushing athletes beyond their limits, putting their health at risk just to win a game, and ignoring what’s good for their long-term health. It’s time we fix this broken system, and I’m working on federal, bipartisan legislation to do just that,” Murphy said.

“Today’s report talks about all of the various ways that college athletes’ health is not well served by the current state of college athletics, particularly in the sport of football. As we learn more and more about the dangers of concussions and the long-term damage that can be done to athletes’ brains through repeated head traumas, it is astounding that the NCAA has not taken firmer steps to make sure that all of its members put the health of its athletes first,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s first report examined the billions of dollars in revenue produced by college sports and how that money enriches nearly everyone but the athletes themselves, while his second report examined the ways in which colleges fail to provide athletes with the education they deserve.

“I applaud Senator Murphy for taking a holistic approach to the problems in college sports with these three reports,” said Slap. “We both agree that we can’t wait for the NCAA to make the right decision regarding student athletes being able to engage in product endorsement deals. We can’t sit back and just hope that at some point the NCAA gets off the dime and takes action. The only way I think things are going to get better for our state’s athletes is if we attack this issue at the federal level, as Senator Murphy is doing, and at the state level, as I plan to do. We plan to have a public hearing in a few months on a bill about some real changes that I will propose.”

According to Murphy, currently one page of the NCAA’s 400-page manual for Division I athletes addresses protecting the health of college athletes, while 38 pages of the manual are dedicated to preventing athletes from making money.

“That speaks to the misplaced priorities of the NCAA today,” Murphy said. “They were formed as an organization to protect the health of athletes. But today, they are almost completely absent from the conversation about how you make sure, especially in football, that students are protected from what could be life altering trauma.”

Recommendations made in Murphy’s report include providing healthcare coverage for college athletes, providing athletes with access to healthcare providers who do not answer to their coaches, guaranteeing scholarships in the event of injury, allowing transfer without impacting eligibility when an athlete believes their health is at stake, and enforcement of consequences for schools that fail to follow health protocols.

Murphy said Monday that there has been progress in Washington since his first report was introduced during the “March Madness” basketball tournament last spring. He was initially the only member of the Senate to raise the issue, but now has organized a bipartisan working group along with Republican Sen. Mitt Romney that also includes Sens. Marco Rubio, David Purdue, and Cory Booker.

“This isn’t the most important issue in Connecticut or the country,” Murphy said. “There are a dozen issues that are more important. But to me, this is an issue of civil rights. These are largely young, African American athletes that are playing in the big-time college sports programs and the adults who are getting rich off their exploits are largely white. That fact can’t be ignored.

“And so, I think when you see an injustice like this, when you see a[n] unaddressed civil rights issue, you need to speak up and be active on it. And as a sports fan, somebody who really likes watching college sports, I think I speak on behalf of a lot of fans of college sports that want to see this system be a little bit more just to the players that we follow so closely on a weekly and daily basis,” said Murphy.

The working group will hold its first meeting Tuesday in Washington with Dr. Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, to discuss athlete compensation and related issues.

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