Two United States senators plan to submit a bill later this week prohibiting schools from compelling athletes sign COVID-19 waivers as a condition of participation. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) crafted the bill after sending NCAA president Mark Emmert a letter on the subject last week.
In the letter, the Democratic senators expressed "grave concern" that athletes are being forced "to sign away their right to hold their school accountable" during the coronavirus pandemic. They have asked Emmert for a response by Tuesday, July 7.
Aides for the senators did not respond directly to a request for comment. A separate source told CBS Sports that the bill could be submitted as soon as midweek.
In a draft copy of the legislation obtained by CBS Sports, the senators make four stipulations:
- An institution shall not allow any individual to agree to a waiver of liability regarding the coronavirus.
- An institution shall not cancel a scholarship or financial aid for a player who refuses to participate because of concerns regarding the coronavirus.
- An institution shall inform all athletes at the school when an athlete or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. The person who tests positive does not have to be identified.
- An institution will make sure the athletic department adheres to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
Ohio State has made players sign a pledge that they "take responsibility for their own health." Players who do not sign can be separated from the team while keeping their scholarship.
Indiana players were compelled to sign a coronavirus waiver. SMU went a step further. Its players must sign a document that absolves the school and its employees to any COVID-19 related claims.
Several other schools are requesting or requiring signatures on similar documents as coronavirus testing itself remains a dicey proposition two months before the season kicks off.
A parents movement has risen up after several schools made players to sign those waivers/pledges.
Chris and Mya Hinton have two sons, one each playing at Michigan and Stanford. Chris played 13 seasons in the NFL. Mya is an attorney who graduated from Notre Dame Law School. Their letter to Emmert asked him to protect the athletes who the association purports to oversee.
The decision to open football programs to voluntary workouts on June 1, they wrote, "did not come with universal safety guidance to govern all schools."
Summarizing the letter: Why can the NCAA find a one-size-fits-all approach to transfers, eligibility, safety and name, image and likeness, but testing for COVID-19 is left up to the schools?
"This is kind of the tipping point," Chris Hinton said. "We've been talking about doing something like this for three or four years. The pandemic, that [was the catalyst], some way to advocate for the parents and the players."
The grassroots parents movement that was started this month by the Hintons now has 1,000 members on its Facebook page.
The legality of waivers is still being debated. One Power Five source called them "informed consent," comparing the waivers to disclaimer documents patients sign before surgery. Sort of like an athletic prenup.
"It's a way to protect yourself," the source said, "but it's not a way to protect [a school] from getting sued."