Column: ESPEm

Allowing athletes to profit off of their names and likenesses was not the only news concerning the NCAA this week. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) released the “Justice and Opportunity for Athletes” portion of his platform this week, which lays out a plan to introduce more comprehensive regulations for schools about their NCAA athletes – specifically, for their health.

Right now, the NCAA has very few regulations for injured athletes. Though the NCAA requires schools to report injuries, it does not have a set procedure for caring for those athletes.

Many of the injury procedures are school-determined, and treatment aims to get the athlete back in the game, not ensure the overall health of the athlete. Some athletes suffer life-altering injuries or even death in college, which could have been prevented had their care been better.

Football athletes are especially at risk, whether from orthopedic injuries or something much more insidious: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank published a study that 86% of college football players and a whopping 96% of professional players
develop CTE.

CTE is easily reduced, if not preventable. Reducing head trauma and following the correct rest and head trauma care after a hit can help prevent CTE – but many athletes are not taken out of the game when they should be. Instead, they are put back into play as soon as possible instead of waiting for them to
properly heal.

At the worst extreme, some college athletes die in competition or practice. Forty high school football players and 10 college football players have died of heat stroke since 2000, according to a report published by the American College of Sports Medicine. 

Almost all of those athletes showed signs of their heat illness. Heat stroke is not a sudden condition in most cases, and its earlier stages of heat exhaustion are easily treatable. Yet many of these athletes who complained of their symptoms well before their deaths received too little care, too late.

For some of these athletes, their deaths were a result of poor staff training. Jordan McNair, the 19-year-old University of Maryland football player who died of heat stroke in June 2018, was failed by his athletics training staff. The training staff failed to check his vitals and failed to call for 911 assistance and remove him from practice as quickly as needed. McNair was not transported to a hospital until he’d already begun to have heat-induced seizures.

For many athletes, their deaths and injuries occurred because they weren’t removed from practice – including McNair. With more consistent regulations, these tragedies could be avoided, and any school not in compliance with the health standards would be investigated. 

Booker, if he wins the election, hopes to set up stronger monitoring in the Department of Education as well as establish the U.S. Commission on Integrity in Sports to keep athletes safe and healthy and provide them the best experience possible.

Government-run or not, better monitoring and management for athletes is vital. The socialization of college and professional athletics is not required to help keep these athletes healthy and alive, but better regulation on the part of the NCAA or the organizations involved is. 

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