BY JACOB STEINBERG
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau
College athletes could be allowed to profit off of their name, image and likeness, and would be better protected under a bill that passed the Maryland House of Delegates this week.
HB0125 and its cross-file, SB0439, with sponsors Del. Brooke E. Lierman, D-Baltimore, Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll and Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, are part of a growing conversation nationally surrounding the economic, mental and physical well-being of college athletes.
Also titled the Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act, the bill aims to protect student athletes from tragedies like McNair’s death, and cases of sexual abuse as seen with the Michigan State University gymnastics team.
“These are the stakes, life and death, sexual assault, and racial and economic justice — it’s time for Maryland to end the exploitation of its college athletes by adopting HB0125,” Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Player’s Association, said at a Jan. 27 House Appropriations Commitee hearing.
On June 13, 2018, McNair died two weeks after passing out from heat stroke during an offseason workout with the University of Maryland football team.
Five other states have already passed legislation surrounding name, image and likeness — including Florida, where the bill goes into effect July 1.
“I think it’s time for the Maryland General Assembly to stand up to the NCAA and to support our Maryland student athletes,” Lierman said at the hearing.
Under current NCAA rules, student athletes are prohibited from profiting off of their name, image and likeness.
The NCAA Division I Council was scheduled to vote on the issue in early January, but the vote was delayed and is expected to resume in late March.
“We would like to see the NCAA get to a point that falls in line with what we’re doing and other states around the country are doing,” University of Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans told Capital News Service.
Every other college student who is not an NCAA athlete has the ability to earn money whatever legal way they want using their name, image or likeness.
Proponents of the bill also pinpointed the disparity between college athletes being prevented from earning income off their name, image and likeness, while athletic directors and coaches are often the highest paid public employees in the state.
Maryland basketball head coach Mark Turgeon was scheduled to make roughly $3 million in 2020, while football head coach Mike Locksley was scheduled to earn a $2.65 million salary in 2020, according to USA Today.
University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines was expected to earn $750,000 this year before a 15% pay cut.
“These are unnecessary and anti-competitive restrictions; it has the effect of exacerbating student athlete’s financial challenges,” Ready said at a Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing Feb. 25.
The ability to generate revenue off of their name, image and likeness could be particularly beneficial for female athletes as well as those athletes of color and those from underprivileged backgrounds.
Female athletes traditionally don’t have as many opportunities to pursue their sport at a professional level, which means that they have fewer opportunities to profit than their male counterparts.
Athletes of color and those from disadvantaged backgrounds can be disproportionately affected by the inability to profit off of their name, image and likeness compared to other non-minority athletes and those from more privileged backgrounds.
“Name, image and likeness is going to help a lot of athletes across all sports,” Evans told Capital News Service.
Evans also explained that this could be beneficial for athletes across all sports to create a brand for themselves through social media.
The University System of Maryland initially expressed concern with the verbiage of some components of the bill, specifically some of the stipulations involving name, image and likeness, which they explained could present an issue for universities in the state deviating from NCAA policy.
The University System of Maryland also wanted to ensure that the guidelines proposed for health and safety weren’t already imposed and would act as an extension to the policies currently in place.
As such the bill passed the House Appropriations Committee unanimously with amendments that specify the scope of name, image and likeness and would only add health and safety protocols that aren’t currently utilized by institutions within the University System of Maryland.
One of the amendments in the bill prevents athletes from using certain types of advertising including those that utilize the branding or logo of their school without permission from the institution or the athletic department.
Beyond the economic impact of the bill, it also introduces several measures to protect a student athlete’s mental and physical well-being.
Under this legislation, any intercollegiate athletic program at a public institution in the state is responsible for developing guidelines to prevent, assess and treat serious sports-related conditions including brain injury, heat illness, and rhabdomyolysis, according to the bill.
All three of those injuries can be caused by excessive workload or stress in a workout.
“We recognize that the need to pass legislation in order to help save the lives of student athletes is more critical than ever,” Marty McNair, McNair’s father and the founder of the Jordan McNair Foundation, said at a Jan. 27 hearing.
“According to the CDC, heat illnesses have been recognized as the leading cause of death and disability among student athletes,” McNair added.
The bill also would establish protocols for players returning from serious injury as well as guidelines for those athletes who suffer from conditions like sickle-cell disease and asthma.
In addition, the University System of Maryland Intercollegiate Athletics Workgroup along with Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College would be responsible for submitting a report to the General Assembly on any changes with student athlete policy on or before Oct. 1, 2021, and each year thereafter, according to the bill.
In support of the bill, Del. Ben Barnes, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s explained that the Legislature shouldn’t wait for the NCAA to make their ruling and instead should put pressure on them to do the right thing by student athletes.
“A government or bureaucracy telling you what to do with your name, that is fundamentally un-American, that is not who we are, these athletes deserve to control their name, image, and likeness,” Barnes said at the floor session.
The House version of the bill passed 122-12 Wednesday and has been referred to the Senate Education, Health and Environment Affairs Committee.
No voting session for the Senate version of the bill has been scheduled.
“We go to their games, we tweet our support, and we support them in our words,” Lierman said.
“Now it’s time we should support them here where we can truly make a difference, through passing this legislation,” Lierman added.