Blumenthal Previews Efforts to Empower & Protect College Athletes at Senate Hearing

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – While serving as the Ranking Member during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Protecting the Integrity of College Athletics today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) previewed efforts to develop a college athletes’ Bill of Rights that would prioritize the health and well-being of athletes while protecting their economic rights and creating real transparency and accountability over the college sports market.

 

“For far too long, special interests have hidden a multi-billion dollar industry from scrutiny under the masquerade of amateurism. For years, schools, conferences, and the NCAA resisted all reforms. Their response to athletes was a blanket ‘no,’” Blumenthal said during the hearing.

 

“I’m proud to announce that I’m working on a framework with Senator Booker for a college athletes’ Bill of Rights. This framework succeeds where the NCAA has too often failed and it centers on the rights and welfare of college athletes.”

 

We want reforms with real teeth and real protections for the athletes. Put the athletes first.”

 

Video of Blumenthal’s remarks is available here. The full transcript of Blumenthal’s comments is available below.

 

Today brings us together very seriously for a very, very important hearing, and I do want to very seriously thank my colleague Senator Booker for being the quarterback and star of an effort that we are leading together as partners to establish a framework, a Bill of Rights, a set of principles, that will protect athletes and I’m going to enumerate some of them today.

 

This framework and set of principles – a Bill of Rights – is important in making sure that colleges put athletes first. We’re talking here about lives and dollars – a lot of both. And the point is that those lives need to be put first, athletes need to be given priority. The literal blood, sweat, and tears of athletes is what fuels a $14 billion industry. But until very recently, athletes received none of it.

 

For far too long, special interests have hidden, in effect, a multi-billion dollar industry from scrutiny under the masquerade of amateurism. For years, schools, conferences, and the NCAA resisted all reforms. Their response to athletes was a blanket “no.”

 

Thanks to those college athletes themselves for stepping up and speaking out, a growing number of states have passed or introduced legislation that ensures those athletes some rights over their own name, image, and likeness. Some states have gone further to provide health and educational safeguards to students.

 

Only after those states took that action and started passing laws did we hear from the schools and associations about an urgent need for Congress to act. The pattern is familiar to all of us in the United States Senate. Once the states start taking action to offer protection to consumers, patients, athletes, the industry comes forward asking for a national standard.

 

I’m interested to hear more about the Autonomy 5 and NCAA’s proposals, but I want to send this message which I think many of us feel is all important: we want reforms with real teeth and real protection for the athletes. Put the athletes first.

 

And colleges ought to hear that message loud and clear. College athletes must receive fair compensation for their work. They deserve to share fairly in the revenue they create through their photos, their jerseys, their merchandise promotions with their name, image, and likeness. This is a matter of equity and equality. Athletes have to be protected against exploitative practices which may be inadvertent but still pernicious.

 

And there is a racial justice dimension here. It is a dimension that involves racial justice, economic justice, health care justice. Our nation is in the middle of a profound reckoning on the systematic racial injustices of our entire society. It should not be lost on any of us that collegiate sports that generate the highest revenue are disproportionately played by students of color. That is an undeniable fact about today’s college athlete world. Our current system denies these students access to the revenue that their labor generates and that is unfair, unjust, and it reflects racial injustice as well as economic injustice.

 

And that’s why today I’m proud to announce that I’m working on a framework with Senator Booker for a College Athletes Bill of Rights. This framework succeeds where the NCAA has too often failed and it centers on the rights and welfare of college athletes.

 

Our framework empowers and protects economic rights of athletes, it allows students to market their name, image, and likeness rights both individually and on a group basis.

 

It would also ensure that students have the opportunity to negotiate revenue sharing agreements with athletic associations, conferences, and schools.

 

It would empower and protect students right to an education, enable them beyond their academic and athletic career. Currently fewer than six in ten college students graduate in four years and only 55% of Black male athletes from the power five conferences graduate within six years. Our framework would provide college athletes with commensurate lifetime scholarships to give them more time to complete their degrees.

 

We create and empower transparency and give athletes the right to hold accountable their colleges. Our framework would create an oversight panel with the regulation of agents and third party NIL deals to athletes and make sure they have a real voice.

 

And finally, the framework protects the health and wellbeing of the student athlete. Nothing is more important than health. It is unacceptable that college athletes continue to die, literally die, from heat related illnesses and athletic programs still fail to report on all collegiate sports injuries including concussion. We require comprehensive health care coverage and support with sports related injuries. Perhaps most importantly, this framework also includes essential health and safety measures with real enforcement mechanisms. Enforcement is key as I know from my own career in law enforcement.

 

This pandemic has highlighted the need to enact strong health and safety protections. Across the country, schools are now rushing to bring students back on campus. We are watching a slow motion potential catastrophe. We all want college sports, we all want colleges to reopen. It has to be done safely. Putting athletes first. Putting athletes first.

 

Tragically but unsurprisingly, a lot of decisions have led to clusters of outbreaks at schools such as Ohio State University and the University of North Carolina. If schools and the NCAA prioritize student health and safety, and if they did it from the start, they would not fight accountability and basic rights.

 

So let me just conclude by saying, Congress has a great opportunity to move forward on a bipartisan basis. The Ivy League has sent a message, so has the Patriot League. Other schools will have to make their own decisions. Hopefully they will put college athletes first and their wellbeing has to be our priority.

 

Thank you Mr. Chairman.