[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation today to empower college athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools across the country have recently required college athletes to sign liability waivers, exempting institutions from being held accountable for the spread of COVID-19. College athletes who refuse to sign away their rights or fail to abide by the terms of the exploitative waivers can be prohibited from participating in team activities, denied admittance to athletic facilities, and cut from their teams – putting their athletic scholarships and academic futures in jeopardy.
“Forcing college athletes to sign away their rights or risk losing their scholarships in the middle of a pandemic is just the latest in a litany of unacceptable actions schools have taken to exploit these young people. Our legislation restores the rights schools have tried to strip away from college athletes and makes clear: their health and safety is a non-negotiable priority,” Blumenthal said.
“College athletes need to know their universities have their back, but some schools seem more invested in trying to avoid accountability behind legally dubious COVID-19 liability waivers than they are in keeping their athletes healthy and safe. This legislation would ban the use of COVID-19 liability waivers and require college athletic departments to comply with CDC-issued guidance relating to COVID-19. Now more than ever, it is critical that we have strong, uniform, enforceable standards that govern the health and safety of all college athletes,” Booker said.
The College Athlete Pandemic Safety (CAPS) Act would block the kind of blanket COVID-19 liability waivers schools have coerced college athletes to sign, instead empowering college athletes to enforce their rights in court. The bill also prohibits schools from canceling the scholarships of athletes that choose not to participate in a team activity out of fear of contracting COVID-19. The legislation would also require schools to inform all college athletes when an athlete or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, and directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19 for college athletes.
Last week, Blumenthal and Booker wrote National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert seeking a prohibition on COVID-19 liability waivers. A copy of the full letter to the NCAA is available here.
“The NCAA, conferences, and colleges are coercing college athletes into playing in a pandemic in a predatory industry that refuses to enforce health and safety standards. Disturbingly, college athletes who are denied the ability to secure representation and negotiate a safer return to their sport are being required to sign written agreements that can shield their college from liability from negligence that endangers their health. Every college athlete should have the option to not play this season without losing his or her scholarship. The National College Players Association is grateful that Senator Blumenthal and Senator Booker are standing up for college athletes' health and safety,” said Ramogi Huma, Executive Director of the National College Players Association.
“The Drake Group applauds Senators Blumenthal and Booker for introducing the “College Athlete Pandemic Safety Act” that would protect college athletes from forced or premature returns to campus and financial retribution during the pandemic. The Senators should be commended for addressing the efforts by institutions to require athletes to sign waivers of liability that protect institutions from lawsuits related to COVID-19 or to refuse to tell athletes when other athletes at the institution test positive. If athletes refuse to sign these waivers, they face the possibility of losing their athletic scholarships. None of these practices are morally acceptable and all send an embarrassing message that protecting the college or university from a lawsuit and getting athletes back to playing football so the institution can garner gate receipts and television revenues is more important than athletes’ lives. We also commend the Senators for their letter to the National Collegiate Athletic Association questioning why it is Congress rather than the NCAA that is taking these actions. We ask the same question,” said Donna Lopiano, President of The Drake Group.