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MURPHY: THE NCAA AND COLLEGES MUST DO MORE TO MAKE SURE ATHLETES’ HEALTH COMES FIRST

“Adults in the system are making millions and millions of dollars and leaving behind athletes who remain poor, and whose bodies are broken in the process”

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, on Monday released his third and final report in a series that considers the range of problems within college athletics. The report, “Madness, Inc.: How College Sports Can Leave Athletes Broken and Abandoned,” examines the ways in which colleges and the NCAA neglect athletes’ health. At a press conference today to discuss the report, Murphy was joined by Allen Sack, former President of the Drake Group, a think tank focused on reforming college sports, and Connecticut State Senator Derek Slap. 

“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 continued: “The NCAA Division One Manual is 400 pages long. In it, 38 pages are dedicated to stopping student athletes from being able to make money. One page, of 400, is dedicated to protecting the health of college athletes. That speaks to the misplaced priorities of the NCAA today. 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.”

Murphy’s report offers several recommendations to remedy the problem of NCAA’s neglect for the health of its athletes—(1) give college athletes healthcare coverage; (2) give college athletes access to independent health care providers who aren’t answering to their coaches; (3) guarantee students’ scholarships; (4) allow students to transfer, with immediate eligibility, out of programs where they think their health is at stake; and (5) enforce real consequences for schools that don’t follow their health protocols.

Murphy also discussed the groundswell of support on the issue since he authored his first report: “Since I released the first report in the spring, we made a lot of progress in Washington. I was, at the time, the only member of the Senate who was raising issues around the compensation and health of student athletes. I’m grateful that since that first report was released, a number of my colleagues have stepped forward, who want to develop legislation to protect student athletes.”

This is the third and final report in Murphy’s Madness, Inc. series that considered a range of problems within college sports. Murphy’s first report, released in March during the annual men’s basketball “March Madness” tournament, examined the billions in revenues produced by college sports and how that money enriches nearly everyone but the athletes themselves. Coaches, former athletes, and advocates have spoken out in support of Murphy’s first report. Murphy’s second report examined the ways in which colleges fail in providing athletes the education they deserve. This report similarly received praise from coaches, former athletes and advocates.

A full transcript of Murphy’s remarks can be found below:

“All right—good morning everyone. Thank you very much for joining us here today. My name is Chris Murphy and I have the honor or representing Connecticut in the United States Senate. I’m joined here today by my friend and colleague, State Senator Derek Slap. As well as Allen Sack, who’s former President of the Drake Group, a former college athlete, and a longtime activist on the issue of better resourcing athletes in amateur athletics, who with the necessary rights to protect themselves and their health.

“Today, my office is releasing the third in a series of reports on the state of college athletics today. This report is entitled, “How College Sports Can Leave Athletes Broken and Abandoned,” and it details the often grave health risks that are presented to many college athletes and how profits, and the drive for profits in college athletics, are pushing coaches to press athletes into service even though their body’s in many cases are very badly, badly broken.

“I am a sports fan, a college sports fan. I’m a former athlete. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but I frankly would have paid money to play college athletics. I know how important athletics is to the development of a young person and I think it has a very important role to play in colleges today.

“Unfortunately, college athletics [have] become professionalized. And increasingly, adults in the system are making millions and millions of dollars, and leaving behind athletes who remain poor, and whose bodies are broken in the process.

“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.

“The NCAA Division One Manual is 400 pages long. In it, 38 pages are dedicated to stopping student athletes from being able to make money. One page, of 400, is dedicated to protecting the health of college athletes. That speaks to the misplaced priorities of the NCAA today. 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.

“19% of athletic trainers working for colleges today report that coaches played students who they had deemed to be medically ineligible. That’s a damning statistic. 20% of athletic trainers report that students who were so injured, in many cases with head traumas, that they shouldn’t have been out in the field, were actually pressed into service. That is because these coaches are driven to win by the immense amounts of money that are involved in college athletics.

“When coaches are making multimillion-dollar salaries, when their offensive coordinators are making a million dollars a year, they unfortunately see students as commodities. And they press those commodities into service, even when they have serious injuries to deal with.

“Every year, there are 20,000 different football injuries. And my report, in the end, offers several recommendations. One: it recommends that college athletes be given health care coverage. There are some colleges that are doing that today, but not enough. That seems to be a pretty common-sense step for the NCAA to take.

“Two: college athletes should have access to independent health care providers that aren’t answering to their coaches. The reason that a lot of student athletes are pressed onto the playing field, especially with head injuries, is because the doctors that they’re seeing work for the athletic department. That’s an inherent conflict of interest.

“Third: scholarship should be guaranteed. The NCAA says that these are student-athletes. Well, the problem is as soon as they stop being athletes, the colleges don’t let them be students any longer. Some schools guarantee four-year scholarships to students that they recruit, but all Division One schools should guarantee those scholarships. If a student believes that playing basketball or football isn’t in their best interest any longer, they shouldn’t be forced to drop out of school.

“Fourth: students should be allowed to transfer out of programs where they think their health is at stake. Right now, the transfer rules punish students who are trying to get into a better environment for their health. Transfer rules should allow for students to move from school to school.

“And then lastly, there should be real consequences for schools that don’t follow health protocols. The NCAA should develop detailed concussion protocols, and deliver consequences to schools and athletic programs that don’t follow them. That’s simply not happening today.

“Since I released the first report in the Spring, we made a lot of progress in Washington.

“I was, at the time, the only member of the Senate who was raising issues around the compensation and health of student athletes. I’m grateful that since that first report was released, a number of my colleagues have stepped forward, who want to develop legislation to protect student athletes.

“And we just announced the formation of a working group. Senator Romney and I are organizing it. Senator Rubio, Senator Perdue and Senator Booker are members of it. We are hopefully going to get together and meet for the first time this week and be looking at different kinds of legislation that we could introduce next year to properly protect student-athletes.

“Before I introduce Derek and Allen, let me just put a caveat on all of this. This isn’t the most important issue in Connecticut or the country. 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.

“With that, let me introduce to you, Senator Derek Slap, who is championing the issue of athlete rights here in Connecticut, who’s going to be introducing legislation in the upcoming session on some of the topics that we’re talking about today, Senator Slap.”

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