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Volume X, Number 225

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August 10, 2020

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Senators Plan to Introduce Federal Legislation to Eliminate Use of COVID-19 Student-Athlete Liability Waivers

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker plan to formally introduce legislation, the “College Athlete Pandemic Safety Act,” to eliminate the ability of colleges and universities to use liability waivers as a basis for student-athletes to return to campus and resume training activities.

Reacting to the growing number of schools, including Ohio State, SMU, Indiana, and Iowa, requiring student-athletes to sign liability waivers or “pledges,” the Senators have expressed concern that student-athletes are being asked to waive their legal rights in order to avoid being barred from practice and training facilities without the benefit of legal counsel. Senator Blumenthal summed up the proposed legislation, stating that

student-athlete’s health and safety is a “non-negotiable priority”

and that “forcing college athletes to sign away their rights … in the middle of a pandemic is just the latest in a litany of unacceptable actions schools have taken to exploit these young people.”

A proposed draft of the legislation includes the following stipulations:

  • A college or university cannot allow an individual to agree to a waiver of liability regarding COVID-19.

  • A college or university may not cancel a scholarship or financial aid for a student-athlete who refuses to participate because of concerns regarding COVID-19.

  • A college or university must inform all student-athletes at the school when an athlete or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. The person who tests positive will not be identified.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will  be asked to develop specific health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19 for student-athletes.

  • The college or university will make sure the athletic department adheres to all COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

Reaction and criticism of the NCAA regarding its lack of a uniform health and safety policy has been swift. Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen criticized the NCAA for publishing guidelines relating to the restarting of college sports but leaving “it up to individual schools to decide how to implement health and safety policies.” Senator Rosen also commented during Senate committee hearings that the lack of a uniformed NCAA response could result in 1,100 NCAA member schools reacting differently, which could result in wide-ranging and inconsistent protocols for testing, social distancing, and the quarantining of athletes.

NCAA Board of Governors Chairman Michael Drake responded to the criticism of the NCAA by asserting that he supports universal coronavirus guidelines and that “this is under discussion actively on a daily basis.”

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume X, Number 184

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About this Author

Gregg E. Clifton, Collegiate Sports Attorney, Jackson Lewis, disciplinary hearings Lawyer
Office Managing Principal

Gregg E. Clifton is Office Managing Principal of the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as one of the editors of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major...

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Andrew M. Gaggin General Employment Litigation Attorney Jackson Lewis Phoenix, AZ
Associate

Andrew Gaggin is an Associate in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He focuses his practice on the representation of management in employment and traditional labor law matters and is a member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group. 

Mr. Gaggin represents public and private employers in all types of employment litigation and administrative proceedings, including claims of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination, as well as wage and hour disputes. He has extensive litigation experience in both state and federal courts, and before government agencies including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Arizona Civil Rights Division, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the Department of Labor, and the National Labor Relations Board. He has litigated numerous cases through trial, arbitration, and mediation, including all phases of discovery and motion practice.

Mr. Gaggin has significant experience defending against unfair labor practice charges, providing advice to employers facing union organization campaigns, and interpreting and negotiating collective bargaining agreements. He counsels employers on a wide variety of employment issues, including day-to-day management of union and non-union employees, preventive practices, internal investigations, and drafting workplace policies and restrictive covenants. Mr. Gaggin also has specific experience advising NCAA collegiate clients regarding compliance issues, investigatory matters, and developing department policies. 

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Gaggin developed a diverse business law practice that included complex commercial litigation, corporate transactions, insurance matters, and resolving contract disputes.  Mr. Gaggin earned an M.B.A. from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, in addition to his law degree from Washington University School of Law.  Mr. Gaggin also officiates collegiate and minor-professional ice hockey. 

602-714-7028