Zakim Files Ordinances to Protect College Athletes

May 28, 2014

City Councilor Josh Zakim has filed a pair of ordinances that will provide long-awaited and much-needed rights and protections to college athletes in the City of Boston.

In the absence of any federal or state regulations regarding the treatment of college athletes, Zakim has taken the unique step of filing legislation at a local level that will support thousands of college athletes who live in Boston and participate in athletic events in the city. Zakim was scheduled to present both ordinances to the full city council at its regular weekly meeting on Wednesday, May 21.

The first ordinance, the “College Athlete Bill of Rights,” steps in where the NCAA has failed to adequately safeguard the educational and health rights of college athletes. The Bill of Rights guarantees that a college athlete who receives an athletic scholarship from a college or university in Boston will receive an equivalent scholarship commitment from his or her university that extends throughout the undergraduate career. This commitment remains even when the college athlete suffers an injury that ends his or her participation in athletics, or simply falls out of favor with his or her coach.

“If the mission of the NCAA and its member institutions truly is to educate, then scholarships should not be renewable at the sole discretion of the school,” said Zakim. “Asking college athletes to make a four year commitment to their schools without any reciprocal commitment from the school is unjust and hypocritical.”

The Bill of Rights also requires that colleges and universities in Boston, which grant athletic scholarships provide college athletes with comprehensive health insurance throughout their careers, as well as reimbursement for any uncovered health expenses relating to athletic injury. Moreover, if a college athlete requires medical care beyond his or her playing career, the university will be responsible for providing that care or covering its cost.

“When a college athlete has committed his or her body to competing on behalf of a school, the least that school can do is guarantee that college athlete’s healthcare,” said Zakim. “Forcing a college athlete to go ‘out of pocket’ to pay for an injury suffered in his or her sport, as I know happens to college athletes in Boston and elsewhere, cannot be tolerated.”

Finally, the Bill of Rights addresses the rising troubles of sports-related dehydration and concussion in practice and training sessions, which is where the majority of such incidents occur. Inspired by Massachusetts legislation covering high school athletics, the ordinance mandates that any college athlete who loses consciousness or suffers a concussion, whether in a practice or training session, must sit out the remainder of that session. Any further participation is prohibited until the college athlete receives documented medical clearance provided to his or her athletic director.

“Sports-related dehydration and injuries to the head, neck, and spine are on the rise,” Zakim said, “and if the NCAA refuses to regulate this issue, then we here in Boston must.”

The companion ordinance is the “College Athlete Head Injury Gameday Safety Protocol.” It institutes health and safety measures specifically related to head, neck, and spine injuries, which occur at intercollegiate athletic events anywhere in Boston, regardless of where the competing teams are domiciled. In addition to Massachusetts high schools, professional leagues like the NFL and NHL have such policies in place. The NCAA does not. The Protocol requires colleges and universities to create an emergency medical action plan for all game-day venues and provide an on-call neurotrauma consultant to support on-site medical staff.

For football, ice hockey and men’s lacrosse, which produce the highest rates of game-day concussion, the neurotrauma consultant will be required on-site. Further, the Protocol bans re-entry into a competition when a college athlete loses consciousness, suffers a concussion or is suspected to have suffered a concussion.

“Protecting young people in Boston, whether residents or visitors, is one of the City Council’s most critical duties,” said Zakim. “Recognizing that college athletes are at risk for serious injury, and taking reasonable measures to safeguard against that risk, is an urgent matter of public health and conscience.”

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