Proposed Athlete Protection Act is cause of concern at APU

Earlier this year, AB 1435, otherwise known as the Athlete Protection Act, was proposed to the California State Legislative. On March 15, State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) officially introduced her proposed bill. Although this is not the first protection act created to help college athletes, it is the first of its kind, which would introduce the nation’s first Athlete Protection Committee if passed. The committee would oversee all health and safety regulations for collegiate athletics through the state of California.

If it gains enough support, the bill could pass to become new state law, which in turn can bring some interesting changes to Azusa Pacific’s athletic department.

Gonzalez Fletcher is joined by Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the National College Players Association (NCPA) and a former UCLA football player, as well as Marshall and Janie Ross, parents of former USC and NFL player Scott Ross. All four would lead the committee, and would have extraordinary power over college athletics in the state.

“I have introduced the Athlete Protection Act to do the job that the NCAA and campus administrators have utterly failed to do of keeping players safe,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “No parents should ever lose a child because a school valued winning a game more than they valued the health of a player.”

The bill has created a mixed reaction at APU. Payton Williams serves as the Director of Compliance for APU’s athletic department. If the bill passes, he would be in charge of making sure that APU obeys the rules and regulations of the commission.

“It’s the first of its kind. They haven’t conducted anything yet, so it’s tough to say what it would do or how far it would reach, but their focused goal is the same that we have, which is the safety and well-being of our student athletes,” Williams said.

At the moment, Williams is not against the bill. Williams worked for the NCAA National office for eight years and is a former student athlete who suffered from a career ending injury. He supports anything that is intended to help support the overall health of student athletes.

“The end goal of the bill is fine… Anything that makes people more aware of [student athlete health and safety] is a good thing,” Williams said.

However, not everyone within APU’s athletic department feels the same way as Williams. April Hoy serves as APU’s director of Sports Medicine and Wellness. She oversees all athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches, while working alongside performance psychologists, the counseling center and campus nutritionists at APU.

“My fear is that it would have a very negative effect,” Hoy said. “I’m fearful about the direction this group would head because of their lack of knowledge, understanding and resources.”

Hoy has two main concerns regarding the Athlete Protection Act: the financial impact that it would have on the athletics department and the actual intentions of the people behind the bill. If the bill passed, all California college athletics would be required to fund the commission every year. It’s estimated that APU would have to pay up to $75,000 per year.

“If I felt that this was a good use of $75,000, because you can’t put a price on player safety, I would be behind it 100 percent, but I don’t have any confidence that their interests are genuine and that they really are going to be able to deliver,” Hoy said.

In order to pay the commission, APU’s athletics department would have to make budget cuts somewhere – which could mean a reduced amount in athletic scholarships, or worst case scenario, the elimination of an APU’s sports program.

The idea of people who don’t fully understand the entire concept of student athlete health and well-being, while having control of the decision-making within athletic departments greatly concerns people such as Hoy.

“Another risk would be having an outside entity that doesn’t really understand college athletics, coming in and telling you how to do your job,” Hoy said. “I strongly oppose this bill.”

In addition, one of the bill’s main focuses is on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), otherwise known as brain trauma or concussions, which has been a very controversial issue in the world of sports in recent years – particularly with contact sports such as football or boxing. Football is one of the only contact sports that APU has where injuries such as concussions are common. Aside from CTE’s, the Athlete Protection Act fails to mention other important on-campus issues.

“There are so many other things surrounding student athlete health and safety and risk management, things such as nutrition, sleep patterns, mental health, etc. that are not mentioned,” Hoy said. “The fact that they name drop only CTE and sexual assault, which are big buzz words concerns me of their intent, genuineness and their effectiveness. I’m concerned that this is more political, instead of actually caring for college athletes.”

According to Huma, one of the four members behind AB 1435, athletes are nothing but a profit to many universities.

“College athletes need a watchdog looking out for them, plain and simple. Athletes are suffering and dying because schools are prioritizing money over the lives of their players,” Huma said. “Athletes get treated like disposable cash machines by some universities, and it’s costing people their lives.”

However, it’s important to ask: How true is this statement? The key phrasing here is “some universities” mistreat their student athletes, but not all. Azusa Pacific is one of many smaller universities in the state of California that is not considered an athletic powerhouse or athlete factory.

As for the actual concern of concussions, APU has been involved in a major scientific study since 2015 called the Grand Alliance Program – a partnership between the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense, which conducts the most comprehensive study of concussions to date.

Studies such as this have led to major changes within the NCAA – the most recent change came on April 14, 2017, as a result of emergency legislation, where the NCAA decided to eliminate two-a-day contact practices in the preseason for all NCAA football teams, including APU, for health and safety reasons. Two-a-day practices, which have been traditionally known as “hell week” for football teams throughout the country, have been reduced to single-practice days. This change will be implemented for the first time this year.

“You can never mitigate all risks, but the NCAA has been at the forefront of injury surveillance and rule management, and we’ve been doing concussion management in the NCAA better than the NFL ever has, because we aren’t just driven by revenue, we’re driven by wanting to really look out for the health and safety of our student athletes,” Hoy said. “To say that no one is looking out [for them] is a very false statement.”

As time goes on, APU athletics, along with many other colleges in the state of California, will be keeping a close eye on the movement of the bill, as major changes and implications are on the horizon if AB 1435 is passed as law.

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