Industry members promote fitness agenda in D.C. at SGMA annual event

Despite a slumping economy, more than 100 members of the fitness and sporting goods industry turned out to help the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association lobby for greater support of physical activity among congressional members on Capitol Hill. The 10th Annual National Health Through Fitness Day organized by the SGMA on March 4 was called a "banner day" by the group's vice president of government relations, Bill Sells, after the members sat down with legislators in 125 small meetings to advocate for federal support of two key bills.
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Despite a slumping economy, more than 100 members of the fitness and sporting goods industry turned out to help the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association lobby for greater support of physical activity among congressional members on Capitol Hill.

The 10th Annual National Health Through Fitness Day organized by the SGMA on March 4 was called a "banner day" by the group's vice president of government relations, Bill Sells, after the members sat down with legislators in 125 small meetings to advocate for federal support of two key bills:

>> PEP, which provides grants to school districts and communities to support physical education and activity through the purchase of new equipment and training; and

>> PHIT, or "Personal Health Investment Today," which would encourage improved health through physical activity and makes it more affordable by providing federal tax incentives. The act would change current federal tax law to allow for deduction or use of pre-tax dollars in existing accounts such as Health Savings Accounts, for sports, fitness or other physical activities and needed gear or necessary expenses. It would allow an investment of up to $1,000 each year per person, allowing them to save money by using pre-tax dollars on equipment.

"There is a feeling that the Democratic administration is more in touch with health care issues and preventative health care issues," said Gregg Hartley, SGMA vice president of marketing and operations. "You get a warmer reception simply because (the Congress) is focused on the issue at the moment."

Colleen Logan, director of marketing for Icon Fitness, who has attended the event for seven years, told SNEWS she was impressed with the large number of first-time participants -- about 10 percent to 15 percent. She said there was a "sense of urgency" among the attendees since initiatives like PEP and PHIT could work as a stimulus for business.

With the new administration under President Barack Obama in place for six weeks when attendees descended on congressional offices in Washington, D.C., Logan also said there was an increased flavor of optimism. "Until we change this culture (of inactivity),… nothing's going to happen," she said.

Hartley and Sells said there was overwhelming support and, in most cases, the meetings were with the legislator him- or herself, partly because of the large number of athletes, former athletes and celebrity athletes who lend their name and time to the event -- more than in the past. (Click here to read about the 2008 event in a March 18 SNEWS story, "SGMA's National Heath-through-Fitness Day spotlights legislation to boost fitness industry.")

This year's roster included 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker (University of Georgia), former U.S. women's soccer World Cup champion and Olympic soccer gold medalist Mia Hamm, 1984 Olympic women's marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit-Samuelson, former Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis champ Stan Smith, current U.S. women's soccer star/2008 Olympic soccer gold medalist Abby Wambach, former IBF welterweight boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi, 1989 World Series MVP pitcher Dave Stewart (A's), nine-time UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes, and "The Biggest Loser" participant Bernie Salazar. Active NFL players Chris Draft (Panthers and Rams), Trent Cole (Eagles), Vernon Davis (49ers), and Kerry Rhodes (Jets) also participated, as well as former NFL players Ken Harvey (Redskins and Cardinals) and John Booty (Cardinals, Jets, Giants, Eagles and Buccaneers).

Other attending companies with ties to fitness equipment and gear in addition to Logan included Chris Clawson, Johnson Health Tech; Bill Sotis, Lifeline USA; and Ron Sutton, Accusplit; as well as representatives from Everlast, Century Martial Arts, Active Network, Cramer Products, Disney, Easton, Franklin Sports, Gatorade, General Mills, Head Sports, HOPSports, Mizuno, National Sporting Goods Association, Nike, Polar, Pop Warner Football, Prince, Rawlings Sporting Goods, Reebok, Russell Athletic, Sportime, Under Armour and Wilson Sporting Goods.

The PHIT Bill, which will be introduced by Rep. Ron Kind, R-Wis., has risen from a pipedream of a concept in the fall of 2005. It would change current federal tax law to allow for the deduction or use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Once an individual or family spends 7.5 percent of its income on qualified medical expenses, they can deduct physical activity expenses directly. More than 45 million Americans live in families that meet the 7.5-percent threshold to deduct medical expenses. PHIT would also allow Americans to invest up to $1,000 annually in existing pre-tax medical accounts to pay for physical activities. PHIT would only expand the eligible expenses for pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA), or medical reimbursement arrangements and would not increase contribution limits to these accounts.

For the PEP bill, Congress is being asked to approve $100 million in fiscal year 2010. The PEP bill was first approved in 2001 for $5 million and has risen steadily since with $78 million for FY 2009.

For more information about the fitness-oriented legislation, click here to see a Feb. 21, 2007, SNEWS story.

--Therese Iknoian

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