September 19, 2019
Somehow the narrative around SB 206, and athlete rights to the name, image, and likeness of their birthright—a right that every other American citizen takes for granted is being distorted in the media both as to what the California bill awaiting the governor’s signature actually entails and the number of college athletes it would benefit.
Debunking the Myths and Distortions
CNN is wrong. SB 206 doesn’t guarantee pay for any athlete. It doesn’t put them on a school’s payroll. It merely restores a right to college athletes that every other American citizen already has—autonomy regarding one’s own name, image, and likeness. For those who share Tim Tebow’s sentiments, no one will be forced to seek or accept endorsements but the ability to earn would be life-changing for many athletes. As with most things in life a variety of factors will influence how much or how little each athlete will benefit, but if critics would take a few steps back, they’d soon discover that SB 206 holds potential for almost everyone.
Supply and Demand
The primary focus has been on football and men’s basketball. It only stands to reason that top players in revenue sports are likely to secure the most lucrative endorsement deals and there’s nothing wrong with that. We as consumers tend to have an insatiable appetite for football and basketball over say, fencing or rowing. If the public preferred fencing to football fencers would be in greater demand. Doctors earn more than orderlies and neurosurgeons earn more than general practitioners. Supply and demand is driven by scarcity of the skills or goods in relation to consumer demand. It’s really that simple.
Going back to the medical analogy no one on the chain works for free. The orderly still gets paid, but not as much as the doctor. When students graduate from college they will pursue different careers in much the same way athletes pursue different sports. Incomes will vary. That’s simply a fact of life, but in focusing on only one or two groups of athletes shows that many people are stuck in the status quo and unwilling to think outside the box.
What’s Really Behind the Resentment?
Can it be that some people whose skills exceed the demand for them are showing a bit of jealousy? Perhaps the resentment for some stems from racial biases. Could it be that a segment of the white middle class has a hard time dealing with 18 and 19-year old black kids with greater earning potential than their own? Perhaps some who oppose SB 206 feel an entitlement to educations for their sons and daughters who play largely Caucasian dominated sports in which the scholarships are financed by predominantly poor and middle-class black kids while concurrently opposing entitlement programs like food stamps and housing assistance that would help lift the poor to their level.
Some people say if young athletes (especially young black athletes) were to have an abundance of cash they’d squander it on sports cars and fancy watches. Some would. And some wouldn’t. For many lower-income athletes, the ability to earn would alleviate worries about their families and if their mothers are going to have electricity this month. As LA Chargers left tackle Russell Okung stated in testimony before the California Assembly:
“Yes, some of us were fortunate enough to be all but promised multimillion-dollar contracts down the road. But promises don’t pay rent that’s due in a week and they don’t enable us to provide money to parents and siblings who are struggling financially. … My situation was a common one, and it continues to be for so many college athletes.”
Okung recalled having to hustle laundry detergent in order to have clean clothes to wear and says that the broken down car that he couldn’t afford to repair is probably still sitting outside the Oklahoma State Student Union building. Both in testimony and in an article for Player’s Tribune he noted the similarity in college athletes and prisoners, in that they are the only two groups of people in America unable to profit from their labor. I’ll take that a step further–even inmates own and can profit from their NILs, whereas college athletes cannot, and that is what SB 206 seeks to change.
SB 206 Won’t Kill Scholarships or End Title IX
Since SB206 concerns only NIL rights and not salaries paid by schools, scholarships paid by the schools aren’t the least bit threatened as long as people continue to have an appetite for football and basketball or another sport that may someday overtake them in popularity. As long as broadcast rights remain lucrative and people attend games, and boosters do what boosters do, very little will change regarding the number of athletic scholarship opportunities available.
The Myth of a Free Education
But they get such a wonderful free education some argue. Maybe. Maybe a few lucky ones. Often athletes, especially those in revenue sports will find themselves out in the cold either by injury or lackluster performance and the coveted education won’t be completed. Some athletes will fall because the demands of their sport overshadow the player’s ability to keep up with his grades and course work, losing eligibility. Others will be shielded from this fate by being steered to easy courses that won’t land them a decent job when they do graduate. A substantial number of college athletes aren’t’ even on scholarship. They are walk-ons for their teams, who foot their own education bills but are still bound by the same archaic rules.
There’s another segment—the bright athletes who seem to manage everything thrown at them. They choose majors that will permit them to earn a good livelihood and graduate with honors as they block for the star quarterback helping to ensure offensive success for their team. Or they play defense and collision by collision neutralize the opponent’s quarterback and best receivers. They graduate and land a good job with an accounting firm, a software company, or financial institution. These are the athletes that amateurism apologists tend to point to as success stories.
Thankfully there are success stories but what is seldom pointed out is that after only a few years in the workforce many of these success stories begin to crumble. Hundreds of former college players, find they can’t concentrate or remember the details necessary to do their jobs. They experience relentless headaches and can’t look at a computer screen due to light sensitivity. The calculations that once were second nature to the gifted mathematician are now impossible to grasp. Depression sets in partially due to the latent effects of brain trauma, and partially due to the loss of self, associated with diminished mental capacity. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by former college football players seeking relief from the latent effects of football induced brain damage.
Their luckier teammates may find themselves orthopedically challenged and much of their earnings wind up going for health coverage and out of pocket expenses exacerbated by missed time from work to undergo surgery after surgery that never seems to fix the problem.
There is no such thing as a “free” education. Every athlete puts in long hours and hard work to earn the scholarship they’ve been awarded, and that scholarship comes with no guarantees.
Why should a player, who is perhaps in the best position of his life in regard to earning potential be denied the opportunity should Zaxby’s come calling? Every game played increases risk of permanent injury—injury neither the NCAA nor the university will cover tab for after they’ve figured out how to dump the player who’s no longer considered an asset. The term student-athlete was coined to avoid workers compensation liability.
So why I ask shouldn’t these students be allowed to use their talents and ingenuity to market and monetize their reputations while they have the greatest ability to do so?
Where are the amateurism purists when the dream turns into a nightmare? Why aren’t they demanding that the NCAA and schools cover the damages when the players they once cheered for find themselves struggling medically and financially and are unable to avail themselves of the rewards of an education?
How can it be justified when those who benefit most are those in non-revenue sports that tend to take a lesser toll on the body and brain. How can those who go on to lucrative careers achieve this by exploiting those who stand to benefit least? It should be emphasized that in no way does SB 206 take anything away from any athlete who plays college sports in the state of California.
Opportunity For All
Opportunities exist for all athletes, and I believe there are more opportunities for enterprising athletes of all sports than the prevalent narrative supports.
Because the focus has been on top players in the revenue sports who have the potential for large endorsement deals, smaller opportunities are overlooked. Wouldn’t an athlete be better off with $10,000, or $5,000 than nothing at all? For poorer students, this is a lot of money. It would have bought Russell Okung some laundry detergent and fixed his car if nothing more.
For the most part it seems that opposing segments are outraged because players of the most popular sports may have opportunities for endorsements worth five or six figures, and by focusing on what can only be described as jealousy and/or racial resentment they fail to see what their own sons and daughters might gain as well as non-star backup players in the revenue sports.
There’s a great deal of untapped potential in the hometowns of college athletes because communities tend to take a lot of pride when local kids land athletic scholarships at prestigious schools.
Is there any reason to believe that aquatic centers would have no interest in endorsements from homegrown swimming and diving stars? Imagine a waterpark boasting their lifeguard is the fastest swimmer in the state? As it stands now, not only are athletes barred from endorsements but even part-time jobs that utilize their sports skills.
How about a ski resort showing off the local prodigy who trained on their slopes? Couldn’t locally owned fitness centers benefit from showcasing peak college athletes who’ve used their facilities?
While it’s reasonable to believe that major clothing and sneaker lines might only choose athletes of national prominence for large endorsement deals (and amendments in SB 206 limit endorsements of this nature to products that don’t conflict with endorsement deals with their schools), what’s to prevent a locally owned sporting goods or athletic clothing store from marketing hometown favorites now competing at the national level at a California college?
I can easily picture a local soccer star driving a shiny new automobile for his/her endorsement of a hometown car dealership, and possibly a little gas money to go with it.
What restaurant wouldn’t be proud to claim to be the first place homegrown sports talent heads when returning from California to satisfy their cravings for home?
I could go on and on, but surely this gives you an idea of the potential that any college athlete could grasp by attending a California university if SB 206 becomes law. And this doesn’t even account for YouTube channels enterprising young students might create, or a blog detailing the journey of a journalism major who also happens to play tennis at a California school.
In summary, there are no valid arguments against SB 206. Sports will continue to thrive and schools won’t collapse. Even the high-paid coaches who so ardently oppose athletes monetizing their own celebrity will more than likely continue to receive their six and seven-figure salaries, and to their surprise, might even increase them when they learn to share the spotlight with the athletes they train attracting more high-level athletes to their programs.
It’s time to end the madness.
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Sheilla Dingus founded Advocacy for Fairness in Sports in October 2016, after a stint with Defenders of the Wall, a New England Patriots based blog where she dived deep into the legal aspects of Deflategate. Along the way, she observed many inequities in sports and felt a need to address some of the under-reported stories in sports law. She draws from her background as a former professional dancer, who like many of the athletes she writes about, took an early retirement due to orthopedic injuries. After a return trip to college she worked for a legal software company, with seven years as a Project Manager and Analyst. She brings her analytical skills to the table in breaking down complex lawsuits, and enjoys pursuing her longtime interest in journalism.