Senate Panel Seeks Bipartisan Plan on Pay for College Athletes

U.S. lawmakers took up the contentious issue of compensation for competitors in the big-money world of collegiate athletics, finding common ground on the need for change while differing over the specifics.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said at the outset of the hearing, entitled “Protecting the Integrity of College Athletics,” that the goal should be ensuring fair treatment for athletes responsible for generating millions of dollars for their schools while protecting the amateur nature of college sports.

Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, both Democrats, proposed creating a “bill of rights” to prevent exploitation, highlighting what they see as failings that disproportionately affect athletes of color.

“College sports can open doors of opportunity that most young people never even knew exited,” said Booker, who played football at Stanford University. “But unfortunately for far too many, college sports are not always empowering young people to succeed. Instead, plainly, they are exploiting them, and disproportionately exploiting young black athletes.”

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said the need to deal with the issue on a national level is made more urgent by the fact that three states have already passed laws allowing athletes to be compensated for use of their names, likeness and images. He said that poses the threat of bidding wars that would create a “wild West” environment that could harm college sports.

“I have come to accept that basic rights need to be legislated,” added Graham, who said he hopes to come up with a bipartisan proposal by Sept. 15. “I want to makes sure it remains amateur.”

National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert testified at the hearing, telling lawmakers that he supports providing athletes with as much support as possible, but wants to make sure all athletes receive equal treatment.

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