Bill named after Jordan McNair seeks to improve player safety, and financially empower student-athletes

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WDVM) – On April 8th, the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 0439 (SB 439), or better known as the Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act; sending it to Governor Hogan’s office for his signature.

“The opportunity to create something that continues to keep student athletes safe with the sense of empowerment, is really significant.” said Martin McNair, Jordan’s father. “Really in more ways than one, than the actual person thinks about it. So we’re really excited, and even though we’ve done a lot of things in regards to the foundation’s mission, however I think this is one of our most significant victories in the work that we’re doing.”

This bill would allow college athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness; while adding greater health safety measures. It passed it’s third reading in the House, with a 132-5 split,

“This actually allows really a free market way to go out and say, if you can profit off being a great football or basketball player, but really an awesome women’s lacrosse player, and go out and market yourself, or run camps – this allows us for that.” said Senator Justin Ready (R).

Senator Ready, and Senator Chris West (R) served as sponsors for the Senate Bill, which was cross-filed with House Bill 0125 (HB 125), sponsored by Delegate Brooke Lierman (D). Delegate Lierman was the first to introduce legislation to the House, back in February 2019, proposing a bill that would give athletes the rights to unionize, and collectively bargain over issues related to health and safety.

“I read an article on day, and reached out to then Delegate Shelly Hettleman, at that time.” said Martin McNair, “And we had met, and discussed some things, and she had introduced me to [Delegate] Brooke Lierman, back in 2019.”

“Delegate Lierman and I, her team and my team we continuously worked together, basically they kind of asked us exactly, what did we want to do to add anything, or what our thoughts were, so that was very honorable of them, to kind of get our genuine opinion, and us just not using Jordan’s name, from an notoriety perspective. One of the thing that really attracted us to the bill, was the health and wellness of the student athletes, especially at the collegiate level.”

“Working together we were able to craft legislation that would take a holistic look at how we treat our student athletes.” said Delegate Lierman, “Making sure that their safety and health are taken care of. And also, make sure that they have the rights to use their own name image and likeness, to earn income, just like any other student would, in any other college.

The conversation between Delegate Lierman, and Martin McNair would help shape the changes made to the bill; including provisions that would make colleges create guidelines to prevent, and treat serious sports-related injuries, and return-to-play protocols the athletes would follow, after recovering from a serious injury.

The health protocols included in this bill would be in effect, as soon as July 1st, 2021. But the name, image, and likeness provisions of this bill; would not go into effect until July 2023.

“It give’s us time to really let things level out in the market, and sort of set itself.” said Senator Ready, “And if the NCAA comes out with something more uniform, or even the federal government might; then we can adjust our state laws accordingly. But this gets us in the game, and that’s what we wanted to do. Delegate Lierman and I wanted to work on this issue, to protect students, and also empower them economically.”

“This bill in particular, I think really speaks to a lot of different people for many reasons.” said Delegate Lierman, “Both because of the health, and safety component, and because the entire legislature was so devastated, and frustrated by what happened to Jordan McNair. And also, because, at some point the NCAA – many of us believe the NCAA is just looking out for it’s bottom line, more than the student athletes, who are doing the work. So I think we were able to come together, and vote for a bill, that helps put Maryland at the forefront of protecting our student athletes.”

The NCAA has faced increasing pressure; when it comes to the battle behind name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights for their student athletes. Back in February, before a U.S Senate Commerce committee; NCAA President Mark Emmert delivered an opening statement where he said, “Consequently, the NCAA has no intention of taking any action that is contrary to the position advocated by the NCAA or accepted by the Ninth circuit with respects to the types of NIL payments that were at issue with the O’Bannon Case decided a few years ago.”

His stances’ foundation cracked, following criticism that rose from this year’s NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments; conversations about disparities in how men’s, and women’s athletes were treated.

“Jordan had a mission here, and his mission was very impact, and I’m just glad that I was in a position, Tanya and I were in a position to create some tangible, to be able to carry it through.” said Martin McNair, “When you think of Jordan, and the main goal is now that hoping that other states will see the magnitude of their level of empowerment, and it’s like ‘You know what, we can do the same.’. And hopefully we can get a domino effect, or at least let’s get it to a federal legislative level. And then that way, all student athletes, will have opportunity to partake in this case, or be covered by this, or be empowered by this.”

The death of Jordan McNair shocked the entire college football, and really college sports, landscape. It opened up avenues for conversations all the way to the national level, about player safety.

Back in January, 2021; state officials approved of a $3.5 million settlement between the school, and the McNair family. While the Jordan McNair Foundation continues to empower athletes, and educate them about heat-related injuries; Jordan’s name and legacy continue to grow, as his father Martin reflects on how his son has become the poster boy for player safety at the collegiate level.

“We never saw as a family, the magnitude that Jordan’s name would have.” said Martin McNair, “We thought we would watch him play on Sundays – we never thought he would be a household name in regards of player safety. Some days are harder than others but we try to put our efforts and energy into making a difference, and really that’s what kept us sane along the way.”

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