Tennis Industry Joins National Health Through Fitness Day on Capitol Hill

After an inspirational talk from golfing great Gary Player, more than 125 leaders in the sports and fitness industry—including tennis industry executives—descended on Capitol Hill on March 7 to talk with members of Congress and their staffs about the issue of physical fitness. The event was the Sporting Goods Manufacturer’s Association 13th Annual National Health Through Fitness Day.

The purpose of the day of advocacy was to ask the U.S. Congress for support of two pieces of legislation to help "Get America Moving to Improve Health.” In all, there were more than 130 Congressional meetings, 90 of which had the U.S. Senator or U.S. Congressman in the meeting.

National Health Through Fitness Day is SGMA's signature event that promotes policies that will increase participation in sports and fitness activities to improve healthy and active lifestyles. The focal points of this industry lobby effort were two pieces of legislation:

1) The Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Bill funds a competitive grant program to give school districts and community-based organizations resources to provide students with quality, innovative physical education. To date, nearly $800 million in PEP grants have been distributed across the country by the U.S. Department of Education.

2) The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act would promote improved health through increased physical activity by making it more affordable to engage in sports, fitness and recreation activities—through the use of tax incentives.

"The budget-cutting environment on Capitol Hill remains a significant hurdle, but I feel that the industry delivered a convincing message to Congress," said SGMA President/CEO Tom Cove, who is also a TIA board member. "SGMA will continue meeting with individual congressmen to generate continued support for these two key bills. The PEP and PHIT bills can serve as catalysts of change in this country."

“We told the legislators that PEP grants are working at the local level to get more schoolchildren active,” said TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer, who attended the event. “And PHIT expands the way pre-tax savings accounts are used and focuses on preventative measures to help improve health and reverse obesity trends. Both measures can apply to all sports, including tennis.

"We’ve supported NHTF Day for years because it encompasses what tennis is all about: getting people, especially kids, active and developing a healthy lifestyle," de Boer added. "The U.S. has the highest obesity rate in the world—it's dramatically increased 200% since 1990, and we spent $270 billion in 2011 to treat obesity-related illnesses. Prevention through education and physical activity is critical."

The USTA was a Special Event Sponsor and the TIA was a Supporting Sponsor. Other sponsors included Wilson Sporting Goods, Head/Penn and Prince Sports. In addition to de Boer, attending on behalf of the TIA were Project Manager Ryan Melton, who was a former aide on Capitol Hill, and communications consultant Peter Francesconi; Barry Ford and April Croft attended from the USTA’s Advocacy staff; and from Prince Sports were Director of Sports Marketing Peg Connor and former Wimbledon and US Open champion Stan Smith.

"I am particularly interested in obesity and its effect on young people," said Smith. "If we can break that chain, then we can make some progress on this health issue.  Promoting fitness will do just that."

Smith and Gary Player joined other sports celebrities on the Hill, including 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker (the honorary chair of NHTF Day); NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith; former MLB pitcher Tommy John; ex-NHL star Jeremy Roenick; boxer Cara Castronuova; former golf champion Johnny Miller; WNBA stars Tamika Catchings and Lindsey Harding; NFL wide receiver Torrey Smith; Team USA softball star Monica Abbott; U.S. Olympic middle distance runner Jenny Simpson; LPGA star Stacy Lewis; former NFL players Ken Harvey, John Booty, and Aaron Beasley, among others.

The SGMA pointed out that starting in the 1990s, Americans have successfully reversed the upward trends of other major health concerns, including cardiovascular deaths, cancer deaths and the prevalence of infectious diseases. But the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. has continued to rise, with about 30% of Americans now either overweight or obese.

For the PEP Bill, NHTF Day attendees asked Congress to continue funding the program in 2013. PEP is the only Federal funding dedicated to physical education. In FY 2001, the PEP Bill was approved for $5 million; since then, the success of PEP has led to a steady increase in funding—to $79 million in FY 2012.

The PHIT Act 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. Americans could invest up to $2,000 annually to reimburse physical activity costs using PHIT-designated contributions to existing pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA), and other medical reimbursement arrangements. PHIT would only expand the eligible expenses; it would not increase contribution limits. Once an individual or family reaches the 7.5% threshold on income spent for qualified medical expenses, they could deduct physical activity expenses directly.

More than 40 companies and organizations sponsored the 13th Annual National Health Through Fitness Day. For more information, visit