State Sen. Napoleon Harris III, pictured on the left in this February photo, pushed through legislation in the Senate Wednesday requiring school districts to cover medical insurance for catastrophic injuries to their athletes. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
SPRINGFIELD-A former NFL player now in the Illinois Senate led the effort Wednesday to ensure high-school athletes who suffer catastrophic injuries will have a way to pay soaring medical bills.
By a 47-7 vote, the Senate approved and sent to the House legislation pushed by state Sen. Napoleon Harris III (D-Flossmoor) that would require school districts for the first time to carry medical insurance for their athletes.
Harris' legislation was inspired by the devastating injury that left Blue Island High School running back Rasul "Rocky" Clark paralyzed and a quadriplegic after having his neck broken in two places. Clark's insurance lapsed in 2012, and he died a short time later.
Harris worked with Clark's mother in pushing for the extended-coverage mandate laid out in his legislation.
"We're happy we were able to come to an agreement so student athletes are covered and so no family, no mother, no parent has to endure the things Ms. Annette Clark has had to," Harris told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Under Harris' plan, schools would have to cover the costs of a policy that would provide a minimum of $3 million in benefits or five years of coverage, whichever comes first, for catastrophic athletic injuries that run up medical costs beyond $50,000.
The Illinois High School Association provides comparable medical insurance for athletes during state tournaments, but no such requirement exists for school districts during the regular season. Harris estimates his plan would cost school districts less than $5 per athlete.
Harris, who played college football at Northwestern University, was a linebacker first drafted by the Oakland Raiders and went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs. He was elected last fall to represent the 15th Senate District, which covers a swath of the south suburbs.