‘The Bachelor’ star student-athlete enters political arena for mental health issue

Former “Bachelor” star and former football player Colton Underwood has made a new effort to support access to mental health care for student-athletes by putting his name behind a bipartisan bill introduced earlier this year.

In September, Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Targeting Emotional and Mental Stability (TEAM) Act, which would make mental health initiatives for college athletes eligible for the Garrett Lee Smith . GLS) Campus Suicide Prevention Grant Program.

The senators were both college football players – Booker played for the Stanford University Cardinals and Boozman played for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

If passed, the TEAMS Act would amend the Public Health Service Act to allow college athletes access to counseling, crisis helplines, and training in collegiate athletic programs to respond to students who show signs of mental distress.

According to a Senate staffer who worked on the bill, the language of the legislation intentionally gave broad scope for what initiatives schools could undertake, so that they could tailor their programs to their student-athlete populations.

Underwood’s organization, the Colton Underwood Legacy Foundation, played a role in drafting the original text of the legislation, making the shift toward mental health initiatives a few years ago.

“I think in the current situation with the NCAA and the athletes that are there and all these colleges and universities [name, image and likeness] “They could benefit from some guidance and some support and funding from the government,” Underwood told The Hill.

Underwood first became known to the public as the star of ABC’s “The Bachelor”, where she gained attention for talking openly about her virginity, as well as a special episode in which she, in a moment of desperation, readily Jumped over the high fence.

Previously, Underwood was a student-athlete at Illinois State University from 2010–13. Looking back, he says he was “definitely” dealing with mental health issues, noting that he was also locked up at the time. Underwood came out as gay in 2021 and married political strategist Jordan C. Brown earlier this year.

“I didn’t go to therapy because I didn’t want my coaches, I didn’t want university, and I didn’t want my parents to question why I had to go get help,” he said. “This thought came into my mind: ‘If I disclosed this, my scholarship could be in jeopardy. My playing time could be in jeopardy.'”

According to the NCAA’s 2022 Student-Athlete Wellness Study, less than half of student-athletes said they felt comfortable seeking help from a mental health provider on campus. However, the majority of those surveyed said they felt their teammates and coaches took mental health concerns seriously.

Suicide among student-athletes used to be considered a rare occurrence, but has seen a marked increase in recent years. Last year, five NCAA athletes committed suicide in less than two months.

Since he began working on TEAM Act earlier this year, Underwood said that to his knowledge, nine student-athletes have committed suicide.

“This is a death toll for the community. This is a tragic loss,” Underwood said, adding that suicides among students are often difficult to track because universities want to bring minimal attention to such incidents.

According to Underwood, balancing academic and athletic demands in college is a major source of stress for student-athletes. He hopes this bill will serve as a starting point for more action.

He said, “An easy place to start is to actually study with these athletes in a controlled environment and find a reasonable amount of money that would allow a university to fully finance a sports medicine, sports psychologists, and mental health program.” It is necessary to nurture.”

Underwood admits that she did not consider herself a politically educated person before embarking on this path, but she credits her husband for encouraging her to pursue change through legislative avenues. Brown was the one who connected Underwood to the DC lobbying firm Invariant as well as Booker.

“Sen. Booker and my husband are friends. They both went to Stanford … He’s also someone I respect and is very well-respected and someone I look up to,” Underwood said.

“Even before the pandemic…we were having a mental health crisis,” a Senate aide working on the TEAM Act told The Hill. “And after the pandemic, we’ve seen those rates increase.”

“So, it has been Senator Booker’s mission to make an impact in the area of ​​mental health, especially for youth and college students, college athletes. And that’s what attracted us to work on this bill,” he added.

A staffer in Boozman’s office said the TEAM Act is intended to encourage schools to think about their athletes when applying for funding through the GLS grant program and allow athletic departments to think “creatively.” How can they support the players?

GLS grants are issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to institutions of higher education to strengthen suicide prevention. The funds are used to reach vulnerable populations, including students experiencing substance abuse and mental health problems.

For now, the TEAMS Act is in limbo as advocates like Underwood and its sponsors try to garner more support. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, but there is currently no indication when it will be taken up.

The bill is co-sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the NCAA, the Southeastern Conference, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Athletes for Hope.

Senate aides said passing the legislation should be an “easy step” because it does not require any new funding. As is the case with many specific bills, this legislation is likely to be added to a larger legislative package next year.

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