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New Mexico Deaths Cause Push for Mental Health Legislation

Brock Fritz

An Albuquerque state senator is intent on providing University of New Mexico student-athletes with mental health support.

New Mexico State Sen. Mark Moores told the Albuquerque Journal and Sante Fe New Mexican this week that he plans to push legislation to fund mental health initiatives for New Mexico athletes.

“We feed their minds and train them and everything; make sure they get their grades and academics taken care of but we’re not taking care of their mental status,” Moores said, noting he will push for legislation during the 30-day legislative session that starts Jan. 21.

Mental health is on the forefront in New Mexico, as three Lobo student-athletes have passed away in 2019. Former football player Romell Jordan died of undisclosed causes Feb. 27, baseball player Jackson Weller was shot outside a nightclub May 4, and 21-year-old football player Nahje Flowers died of an apparent suicide Nov. 5.

The university provided the football team with grief counselors and therapists following Flowers’ death, but Moore wants full-time counseling support within the athletic department.

“When they’re being sent to counseling it is foreign to them,” said Moore, who was a New Mexico offensive lineman from 1988-91. “It’s not part of the team and the environment, just like the athletic trainers and academic advisers and everyone just part of that support network. So when they send them away it seems like it’s punishment or something’s going on. Having that on-site resource as part of their support network I think is very important.

“Speaking first-hand as a former student-athlete, I lost two of my teammates when I played. … It really is this group of tight-knit kids, young men and women of these teams, and they go through a lot. They need this service.”

Moores has been down this path before. In the last New Mexico legislative session, each senator was given $357,000 to put into the fund of their choosing. Moores chose a supplemental appropriations bill to provide nutrition and behavioral health services to student-athletes.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is focused on mental health on a wider level.

“This issue is so much larger than any one particular group,” Grisham’s spokesman Tripp Stelnicki told the Albuquerque Journal about why the funding was vetoed. “I don’t think anyone would question (the governor’s) commitment to addressing behavioral health.”

Moores, who has been contacted by New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez about the issue, is going to try again when the legislative session opens in January. Having proceeded on his own last year, Moores is working to find support for the funding.

“I was, like, let’s work together so we can get this money back in the budget,” Moores said. “I’ve already talked to the secretary of [higher] education (Kate O’Neill) and said we need to get this in.”

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