What do a former professional athlete, a P.E. teacher from Florida and a fitness manufacturer from Utah have in common? They all banded together on March 12 to walk the halls on Capitol Hill during National Health-through-Fitness Day in support of legislation that promotes physical fitness.
Organized by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the ninth-annual event had close to 120 participants who had a record-setting 100-plus meetings with members of Congress, including senators, representatives and key congressional staff. Participants were briefed at a breakfast meeting, given informational packets with talking points and leave-behind sheets on the bills they would lobby for, and then disbanded into smaller groups for individual meetings throughout the day.
"In the meetings, the members we met with were all supportive, proactive and interested in learning more," Colleen Logan, vice president of marketing for Icon Health & Fitness, told SNEWS®. "They were bringing the issues to the attention of their appropriate staff members. I was encouraged by the response."
The day, she said, is certainly highly educational for participants about the legislative process, but is not just about learning about the goings-on in D.C. because "It's not like a high school field trip. It's your business."
The advocates' main goal was to campaign for two physical activity initiatives:
>> The Carol M. White Physical Education Program -- commonly known as PEP -- provides the only federal money to school districts and community-based organizations for physical education, innovative physical activity methods and to purchase equipment like heart-rate monitors, pedometers and fitness equipment. Since 2001, PEP has provided almost $500 million in grants to K-12 physical education programs across the country.
The consortium asked members of Congress to approve the PEP bill again in fiscal year 2009 for $100 million -- a $25 million increase over 2008's funding.
>> The PHIT Act (Personal Health Investment Today) is currently under consideration in Congress and encourages increased physical activity among Americans through the use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Essentially, families could invest up to $1,000 annually in existing pre-tax medical accounts to pay for gym memberships, fitness equipment and other activity-related endeavors using pre-tax dollars.
Click here for more information on the bills in a Feb. 21, 2007, SNEWS® story, "SGMA continues drive for fitness-oriented legislation on the bills."
"Even this one day makes an impact. It reminds participants and Congress of the magnitude and importance of these bills. These are important issues that resonate. It's a meaningful day that helps us in the end," Mike May, an SGMA spokesman, told SNEWS®
"There's no guarantee that legislation will be passed, so we come back year after year. We need to keep it up," May added. "With PEP, we've barely touched the bottom of the barrel. Nine hundred schools are benefiting from PEP grants. They're thriving with funding, but we have 18,000 high schools in the United States."
Participating companies included Accusplit, Icon Health & Fitness, Horizon Fitness, New Balance Athletic Shoe, Nike, Easton Sports, Under Armour, Polar Electro, Reebok, Schutt Sports Group, NBA, Disney Sports, Cramer Products, Rawlings Sporting Goods, Russell Athletic, Spalding and Spri Products. Supporting sponsors of the event were Accusplit, General Mills, Polar and Icon Health & Fitness.
Also among the contingent were 18 professional and Olympic athletes -- the event's largest number ever -- and included 1982 Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL football player Herschel Walker, former NBA player Clyde Drexler, Olympic gold-medal gymnast Dominique Dawes, and Olympic gold medalist and WNBA player Swin Cash.
"Lobbying on Capitol Hill was a dynamic experience," Jim Darby of Easton Sports said in an official release. "I think I made a difference."
As a three-time National Health-through-Fitness Day attendee, Logan of Icon Health & Fitness said she's noticed an evolutionary process to the lobbying efforts. Previously, her perception was congressional members questioned the financial ramifications of the group's agenda on the government's budget, but now she sees a lot of progress, especially for PHIT.
"The reception I received two years ago to these bills was, how much will this cost and what hit will the government take on pre-taxing equipment. This time, I heard, 'Pre-tax? That's really interesting,'" she said. "Constituents need relief, and PEP and PHIT were good things to talk about. It would be foolish to dismiss them out of hand."
She added, "The PHIT bill can change how our country thinks about medicine -- from a culture of treatment to a culture of prevention. A bigger picture involvement, like a change in the tax code, could have huge industry ramifications for retailers and manufacturers. These are great issues to get involved in and participate. We'll all benefit."
May noted that industry members who were unable to attend the National Health-through-Fitness Day event can still get involved in advocacy efforts by contacting their local representative and senators to express their interest in seeing the PEP and PHIT bills get passed.
SNEWS® View: We have attended this event and others on the Hill in the past and strongly advise those who have not to take a day or two from the business to do just that. You may think somebody will take care of it, but your voice does really count and it does really make a difference. Retailers definitely should take a hard look at coming since in the end these kinds of bills could affect their bottom lines dramatically.