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Saban-backed suicide prevention bill becomes law in Alabama

Nick Saban appears on CBS' "60 Minutes" November 10, 2013
Nick Saban appears on CBS’ “60 Minutes” November 10, 2013

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) signed a new suicide prevention bill into law on Wednesday making Alabama the 18th state to pass the “Jason Flatt Act.” The bill was passed by both houses of the legislature and was first introduced by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) after some prompting from University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

The new law requires teachers seeking certification to go through additional suicide prevention training.

“Our goal with The Jason Flatt Act is not to make teachers into counselors, but rather equip them with information, tools and resources to help better identify and assist at-risk youth for suicide,” Clark Flatt, President of The Jason Foundation (JFI), said. “Bottom line, lives will be saved.”

The rise in suicides, particularly among millennials, has been called an epidemic. Its is the second leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause in Alabama for ages 10 to 24.

The Jason Foundation was created in 1997 after a 16-year-old boy named Jason Flatt tragically committed suicide. His father, Clark Flatt, founded the group in his son’s honor. The Tennessee-based non-profit designed to raise awareness about youth suicide has been instrumental in shepherding a suicide prevention bill known as the Jason Flatt Act through 18 state legislatures.

In Alabama, Crimson Tide head football Coach Nick Saban played a large role in getting the bill on the legislature’s agenda.

RELATED: Two phone calls by Nick Saban made suicide prevention a priority in the Alabama legislature

Through Mr. Flatt’s advocacy work, he befriended Saban while the coach was still at LSU.

“He’s been fantastic to work with throughout the years,” Flatt told the Associated Press. “He’s has done everything he could do for us.”

Mr. Flatt and Coach Saban meet a couple of times a year to discuss the foundation’s work, including the progress of the Jason Flatt Act. Last May, Mr. Flatt told Saban the bill had passed in Texas.

“He asked me why we had not brought the Jason Flatt Act to Alabama,” Flatt said. “I did not have a good answer except we did not have a crusader, we needed those contacts, and he told me as we were breaking up our meeting that he was going to work on that.”

Before Mr. Flatt had made it from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, he received phone calls from Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), who said he would sponsor his bill in the Alabama Senate, and Gov. Robert Bentley, who pledged his support. Both elected officials had received calls from Saban and immediately took action.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate through the years to have very few players suffer issue and problems when we were coaching them,” Saban said. “But we have had some. And it’s one of the most devastating things that you have to go through, even as a coach. I never experienced it as a parent.

“I’m here to help the young people,” he continued. “This is not a political thing for me, alright? This is all about how can we help our youth have a better opportunity with our help and assistance, that we can see warning signs of something that is very, very preventable.”

“It’s so important. It will save young lives,” Mr. Flatt told al.com. “There’s no ‘It might’ or ‘It might be helpful.’ By implementing this, there will be young people alive that would not be alive if this thing wasn’t there to provide teachers warning signs.”

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