- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2021

Three years later, Martin McNair now knows the best way to channel his grief. When he feels the slide toward what he describes as a “dark place” approaching — often in the two weeks surrounding June 13 — McNair pours himself into his work.

“It keeps my mind off the grief process,” McNair said.

But even that work is shaped by his grief. McNair doesn’t want any other family to feel what his family lived through — and lives with each and every day. McNair’s son, Jordan, died June 13, 2018, roughly two weeks after suffering exertional heatstroke at a Maryland football workout. He didn’t receive the proper care, such as cold-water immersion, that would have saved his life.

The elder McNair’s mission changed that day, evolving into something beyond remembrance of his son, a mission to protect the next group of athletes and families through proactive safety measures nationwide. That goal led McNair to the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday, where he testified in favor of a bill on name, image and likeness rights for NCAA athletes.

McNair takes a different approach to that legislation than many others. To him, it’s not about endorsement deals. The primary concern should be including safety provisions that standardize care across the country for athletes, reducing the chance of another preventable death.

“How do we pay a kid if we can’t keep him safe?” McNair told The Washington Times on Friday. “And that should be — to me as a parent, I’m losing a son, as a parent of a student-athlete — that should be paramount.”

Shortly after Jordan McNair’s death, his parents, Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, founded the Jordan McNair Foundation as an awareness, education and advocacy group for heat-related illnesses. The losses still add up.

Since 2000, 30 NCAA football players have died during team workouts. Martin McNair said about 20 high school athletes have died in the last year or so.

“We’re still losing kids, and these are places that you would never hear of,” McNair said. “We’re losing kids in West Texas, in towns of 200 people, Arkansas, Louisiana — I could just go on and on and on. And we would never hear of these, and these families don’t have that voice to say, ‘Guess what? Something needs to be done.’”

So McNair has taken up that responsibility — for his son and for other peoples’ children. Around the third anniversary of Jordan’s death, McNair flew to Kentucky to speak at an event held for Matthew Mangine Jr., a 16-year-old who collapsed during soccer conditioning exercises a year ago.

And three days later, McNair was at Thursday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, pushing for a provision that highlights health and safety factors over — or in addition to — name, image and likeness legislation.

McNair views Maryland’s Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act as an example, with safety protocols listed before name, image and likeness language.

Signed by Gov. Larry Hogan in May, the bill requires athletic programs to create guidelines to prevent heat-related illnesses, brain injuries and rhabdomyolysis — a syndrome in which damaged muscle fibers leak into the circulation. The bill also includes guidelines for athletes with asthma and sickle-cell trait, as well as return-to-play protocols for athletes who suffer an injury or illness during practice or a game.

Eighteen other states have passed laws related to name, image and likeness. But most — if not all — of those bills are missing the critical health and safety guidelines McNair views as the primary concern.

“I’m like, ‘What?’ Like, you’re worried about a kid wearing sneakers?” McNair said. “Where’s the health and safety component of it?”

Should legislation pass Congress, McNair hopes those considerations will get new attention. McNair supports the College Athletes Bill of Rights legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, which includes name, image and likeness language but also emphasizes health and safety guidelines, targeting the main causes for student-athlete deaths: heat exhaustion, cardiac arrest and brain injury.

After all, McNair knows all too well the feelings of losing a child. With these measures in place, he hopes no one else will have to live with the same pain.

“If there’s a baseline standard across the country, this is something we can really go ahead and govern,” McNair said. “It’s so many things that we can put in this bill of rights that can really make a difference, and it always boils down to safety first.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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