#WorldMentalHealthDay: Advocating for Student Athlete Mental Health in the “College Athletes Bill of Rights”

Photo Credit: Humanium

October 10, 2020. Today is World Mental Health Day and it comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months have brought many challenges for everyone around the world and it is expected that the need for mental health support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. Investment in mental health programs at the national level is now more important than it has ever been. This is why the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health.

College Athletes Bill of Rights

Back in August 2020, a group of U.S. senators announced that they planned to introduce a “College Athletes Bill of Rights,” specifically aimed at compensating NCAA student athletes, providing long-term healthcare, lifetime educational scholarships and allowing more freedom with respect to their eligibility. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D), who played football at Stanford University, is leading the proposal. He believes that the NCAA has failed to keep college players safe and “[t]he time has come for change”. He sees this as an opportunity to do what should have been done decades ago — to step in and provide “true justice and opportunity” for collegiate student athletes across the country.

Photo Credit: ABC News

This proposal follows California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, which was passed in September 2019. After the Supreme Court denied a request from the NCAA to freeze a lower court ruling that allows colleges to compensate athletes for education-related expenses, the NCAA is now pleading for help from lawmakers. It is requesting a federal “NCAA-friendly” legislation on regulation of student-athletes’ ability to gain revenue from their name, image and likeness (NIL) to preempt the various NIL state laws. However, some Congressional members want reform beyond NIL.

Booker intends for the bill of rights to be rolled into federal NIL legislation and said back in August that he expects it to be introduced in the “coming months.” So while the legislation will most notably address amateur athlete compensation, it will also address several other key areas. The primary focus here is the provision that would call for an increase in financial assistance for current and former college athletes with medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses from sports related injuries.

Collegiate athletes face and endure more injuries in their four to six year career than most people do in their entire lives. Physical injuries such as concussions, torn ACLs and other ligaments, sprains, strains, shin splints, broken bones, and more are not uncommon (and frankly are to be expected). Injuries such as these can certainly lead to long term complications and potentially more medical problems, which this bill would provide assistance with.

But, not all injuries are physical. What about the student athlete who is struggling with depression, or anxiety, or an eating disorder? What about the student athlete who develops a mental health concern because of a physical injury? Or the student athlete who develops a mental health concern post graduation because of the loss of their athletic identity? As I have previously written, the NCAA and (most) universities are not providing enough mental health support for their student athletes. Yet, they all agree that there has been a significant increase in student athlete mental health concerns. If there is not going to be some type of reform among the NCAA and its members, perhaps Congressional intervention is necessary.

The Collegiate Athletes Bill of Rights could be the perfect solution to this problem. Within the provision providing extra coverage for sports related injuries, Sen. Booker could easily include a few sentences regarding mental health coverage. While the NCAA has its Mental Health Best Practices, this bill could mandate universities to have one or more sports psychologists on campus and require a mental health screen every year for the athletes. Additionally, universities could provide access to and highly encourage student athletes to have monthly, bi-monthly, or once a semester check ins with said psychologist. The bill could also mandate workshops specifically dedicated to graduating seniors or those who suffer career ending injuries. The ideas are endless.

The debate over the College Athletes Bill of Rights provides an opportunity to change the landscape for all college athletes. Certainly, something as prevalent and serious as mental health SHOULD be a part of that conversation.

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