In the wake of Dr. Larry Nassar’s convictions for sexual molestation, Drake Group president B. David Ridpath calls upon the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security to expand its current investigation beyond the actions of Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), to include the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Both the USOC and the NCAA were formed to ensure the safety and well-being of athletes and to protect them against exploitation. Under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1978, the USOC provides important legal protections for open amateur sport athletes, that is, athletes who do not participate in school or college athletic programs. For its part, the NCAA was formed in 1906 after President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban college football because of athletes’ deaths during games and unethical behavior by football-playing colleges.
The Drake Group believes that the USOC and the NCAA have lost their way. For each one, protection of the “brand” now takes precedence over protecting the safety and well-being of athletes. Each group has denied its responsibility to protect athletes and has pushed accountability and legal responsibility onto the shoulders of its individual members. The NCAA, in particular, did so in a 2013 court filing in response to a wrongful death lawsuit brought on behalf of former Frostburg State University football player Derek Sheely. The court filing stated, “The NCAA denies that it has a legal duty to protect student-athletes,” yet conceded that it was “founded to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitative athletic practices of the [early twentieth century].” This doubletalk, which apparently assumes that danger and exploitation no longer exist in college sports, hoists the NCAA by its own petard; it has publicly (and shamefully) demolished the cornerstone of its own existence.
In this environment, when NCAA president Mark Emmert was informed in 2010 of thirty-seven reports of Michigan State athletes sexually assaulting women, he failed to spur a legislative response by the Association. Similarly, the NCAA has failed to adopt a coaches’ code of ethics or any rules concerning professional misconduct by athletic department staff. Despite publishing model sports-medicine practices annually, it has failed to require its member institutions to follow them. And it has failed to require member institutions to provide their athletes with athletic injury insurance.
Thus, the Drake Group respectfully requests the subcommittee to expand its investigation to include the NCAA. Open amateur sport athletes are not alone in needing protection of their safety and well-being; college athletes deserve the same.