Maryland state Sen. Justin Ready (left in foreground) presents proposed legislation in Annapolis on Feb. 12 to improve safety in college sports and compensation for athletes. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Maryland state Sen. Justin Ready (left in foreground) presents proposed legislation in Annapolis on Feb. 12 to improve safety in college sports and compensation for athletes. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers discussed Wednesday a proposal to create an independent council that would allow college athletes to express concerns about injuries, mental health and other issues.

The legislation is named after late University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair, 19, who suffered a heat stroke during an outdoor, offseason scrimmage in May 2018 and died a few weeks later.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll County) also calls for the council to provide recommendations for a college or university to allow student athletes to receive compensation for their “name, image and likeness.”

Ready, who presented the legislation before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said the economic aspect is inspired by California Gov. Gavin Newsom signing into law a bill in September to allow college athletes — particularly football and basketball players — to profit off their name.

The California law, which doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023, directly contrasts the rules of the NCAA, a sports governing body, which prohibits college athletes from making outside money because they receive scholarships to attend school.

“The reason that athletes can be in a situation where they don’t feel they can speak out is because they are depending on that scholarship to get them through until either they can go pro, which most will not, or they can get through their college education,” Ready said. “It’s anti-free market. It all ties together.”

Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles County) questioned connecting McNair’s death and the financial aspect with the council’s overall duties to help college athletes.

“I understand the council working with the athletes to resolve those issues, but I don’t understand using his name and that tragedy to tie into athletes receiving compensation,” he said.

Ellen Zavian, an attorney and adjunct professor of sports law at George Washington University in northwest D.C., summarized why.

Zavian, the first female attorney and agent in the NFL, said a college athlete’s schedule resembles “working conditions.” She criticized the NCAA, which is partly made up of school presidents and other college officials, for its regulations that she said hinder college athletes from achieving higher academic goals.

“The [number] of players that go on to pro [sports] is so little,” she said. “We want the kids to launch a product and do well as an entrepreneur while they’re in school.”

Ellen R. Herbst, vice chancellor of finance and administration for the University System of Maryland, spoke against the bill.

According to the fiscal note, it could cost $470,000 annually for the system to hire additional staff.

Additionally, the system commissioned a report after McNair’s death to adopt more than 60 recommendations, such as preparing cold tubs for players, establishing radio communication between staffers and creating an athletic medicine review board to oversee strength, conditioning and nutrition.

Herbst said many of the recommendations are already implemented throughout the eight schools in the university system.

“We do believe there are adequate mechanisms in place for this input and support,” she said. “While the system shares the value and motivations behind the proposed bill, we cannot support the bill as currently written.”

Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) has sponsored a similar bill in the House scheduled for a hearing Tuesday before the appropriations committee.

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