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WASHINGTON -- Arkansas' U.S. Sen. John Boozman helped introduce legislation Thursday to expand a federal grant program to university initiatives addressing mental health among college athletes.

The Targeting Emotional Mental Stability Act would allow universities to seek funding for creating and maintaining programs for athletes, including peer-to-peer counseling, crisis lines and campuswide outreach addressing the stigma of seeking mental health services.

Boozman, a Republican from Rogers, and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker are leading the legislative effort. Both senators are former college football players; Boozman played for the University of Arkansas and Booker was part of the Stanford University program.

"People don't understand it is a lot of hard work," Boozman recalled about his collegiate sports experience.

"You're spending countless hours on a field, in meetings studying game plans. ... You're singled out in a way that some other students aren't," he added. "I think the big difference now that has really made it so much worse [and] has magnified it is social media."

Boozman additionally mentioned name, image and likeness deals and use of the transfer portal as additional items placing stress on college athletes.

"Lots of expectations [are] on these young people," he said. "They are coming from high school and are young adults and are really put in pressure-filled situations."

Private and public colleges and universities can currently pursue funding through the federal Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant program to enhance mental health services, including tools to reduce suicide and substance use disorder rates.

The legislative proposal would allow colleges and universities to maintain initiatives focused on mental health programs for college athletes. An institution's athletic department would need to submit a letter of support explaining the proposed efforts.

"We're not talking about spending a lot more money," Boozman said. "Let's open it up so that college athletes can be part of that program and get the help that they need if they need it."

In a news release, the senators cited an NCAA survey of college athletes to emphasize the legislation's importance. The study -- conducted in the fall of 2021 -- indicated rates of mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression had not changed since the spring of 2020.

The survey additionally showed 63% of male athletes and 69% of female athletes know where to go on campus if they have a mental health concern, but less than half of all athletes said they would feel comfortable seeking support from mental health resources on campus.

"It is crucial that our college athletes have the mental health resources and care they need to succeed in all aspects of their lives on and off the field," Booker said in a statement. "This legislation will provide more access to mental health resources to provide the necessary support our college athletes need for their health and well-being."

Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., are cosponsoring the legislation. Boozman and Booker touted the bill's early endorsers; the NCAA, the Southeastern Conference and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are among the proposal's first supporters.

"This is all about helping young people develop," Boozman said. "I think it's sometimes difficult -- if you haven't been through it -- the pressure cooker situations that you are in."

The senators' announcement follows comments from University of Arkansas football Coach Sam Pittman about mental health and social media. During a Monday news conference, Pittman admitted he deleted his account on X -- the platform formerly called Twitter -- because of attacks from some users.

Pittman -- in his fourth year leading the Razorbacks -- additionally said the football program encourages players to seek counseling and mental health services and that he has consoled players at times.

"We talk about a lot of things, and one of them happens to be mental health," Pittman said.

Boozman threw his support behind Pittman, describing him as "the kind of coach you like as a young person to play for, or as a parent to have your young people be part of the team."

"I would encourage them [the players] not to read social media," the senator added.

To read the story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette click here