Solomon O. Smith | California Black Media 

At a press conference held at the Pasadena Rose Bowl last week, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 252, called the College Athletic Protection Act.

If the Legislature passes the bill, it will expand and reinforce protections for college athletes, says Holden, who also serves as Assembly Appropriations Committee chair. 

“As a former college basketball player at San Diego State, I know how close you can come to an injury taking away not only the game you love to play, but also your opportunity to finish college,” said Holden. “So, we look at this bill as going further and establishing some important safeguards for athletes as they are out there enjoying what they love to do, but also getting a degree.”

In 2019, Holden introduced a similar bill, the college Athlete Civil Rights Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Newsom. That bill required schools in the state to inform student athletes about their rights and made it illegal for schools to retaliate against athletes who report the school for violations of any kind. 

Holden represents Assembly District 41, where Pasadena, “The City of Champions,” is the political center. It is a town that prides itself on its appreciation for sports and the many accomplished athletes who have called the area home, including baseball great Jackie Robinson and several NFL players who have excelled in various sports and made it to the Super Bowl, according to the Pasadena Sports Hall of Fame website. 

Holden described AB 252 as “comprehensive.” He told California Black Media at the Rose Bowl press conference, that it will require colleges to set aside $25,000 in tuition for athletes who are not fairly compensated annually to cover the cost of game-related injuries. It will also require that Division1 schools set aside 50% of sports revenue to pay athletes as well as make it easier to report abuses and inform their student athletes of their rights.

While other state and federal bills have dealt with the needs of college athletes in a piecemeal fashion, Holden says, this bill comes with a built-in way to enforce it.

A 21-member watchdog group, called the College Athletic Protection (CAP) panel, will oversee enforcement of the bill’s requirements and ensure that schools are reporting their athletic program’s finances. The board will have the power to enforce the provisions in the new bill and mete out discipline to violators.

The financial responsibility of the schools remains tied to annual revenue reports made to the United States Department of Education. For example, institutions reporting revenue over $20 million will pay for “out of pocket sports-related medical expenses” while colleges reporting over $50 million in revenue will also provide “nationally portable primary medical insurance” to each athlete, according to the language in the bill.

Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the National College Players Association, is a former football player at UCLA and has been a longtime advocate of college athletes.

He was introduced by Holden as a “partner” in crafting the bill. 

Huma pointed out the difficulties faced by Black athletes and the exploitative nature of some of the NCAA rules, many of which were highlighted in a 2020 study by the National

Bureau of Economic Research, which looked at basketball and football. It found that the system funnels funds away Black and students from low-income backgrounds. 

Huma was quick to call the NCAA business model illegal using “amateurism” to “strip wealth” from Black athletes.

“The NCAA and its colleges do nothing about the trail of seriously injured abused and dead college athletes. This unchecked abuse is not an oversight – it’s by design,” said Huma.

Huma’s organization supports the bill, and, in his speech, he talked about player safety and fair market value as important parts of helping student athletes. He referred to the bill as a step to ending what he characterizes as “exploitation” by the NCAA.

The bill requires those students who are not receiving “fair market” value to have a graduation fund created for them every year which will apply to tuition – even if they can no longer play. Making graduation a goal for student athletes, the bill’s supporters say, is pivotal because data shows many students are spending long hours training to the detriment of their education or forced to play with serious injuries for fear of losing a scholarship. 

Amy LeClaire was a college gymnast and victim of sexual assault at San Jose State in 2016. She and over two dozen other victims settled with the college, according to Jemma Dunn, her attorney. LeClair was abused by her coach and her trainer, and the college failed to report the abuse, the lawsuit alleged. 

Several of the working conditions LeClair endured will also be addressed by the bill. Ensuring athletes can complete medical treatment and providing ways to report abuse without repercussion are both included in the language. 

“I have witnessed firsthand the depths and complexities of institutional cover ups. Universities have not earned the privilege of operating unchecked, nor have they earned the benefit of the doubt,” said LeClair. “I entered the Institute as knowing the risks of a high-level sport, but never imagined the dangers of the institution itself.”

Not everyone will be happy if the bill passes. The NCAAhas asked the federal governmentto block many of the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) laws being passed by states and claims that these types of lawsundermine their ability to regulate this billion-dollar industry, according to Linda Livingstone, the NCAA’s Board of Governors chair who was quoted in Fortune magazine. 

Livingstone said in cases involving NIL disagreements, said, “We already see that state legislators will take action that they believe will give the universities in their states a competitive edge over their neighbors.”

Elisha Guidry is a recent graduate from UCLA and was a student athlete for the Bruins. As a recent graduate, he has a hopeful view on how the bill will affect students.

“I want to thank all student athletes out there past current and future,” said Guidry. “Our hard work and dedication on and off the field has gone unnoticed. This bill is a step in the right direction to improving things for us now and in the future to come.”