NCAA student-athletes ask Congress to hear their voices in NIL hearing
Had Chris Egi decided to attend Harvard and play the piano, he wouldn’t have had to worry about teaching children his talent or starting a business with his impressive skills while in school. There wouldn’t have been nearly as many hurdles standing in his way to make a living while balancing his rigorous academic curriculum.
But the 6’ 9” Egi is a basketball player, and therefore NCAA restrictions prohibited him from entertaining his entrepreneurial interests while playing for Harvard.
“It’s definitely something that’s come up as frustrating,” said Egi, a former captain of the Crimson basketball team. “You’re constantly having people reaching out to you with different opportunities that you have to turn down.”
The NCAA is beginning the process of reforming its rules as it pertains to name, image, and likeness and the topic of athlete compensation. Commissioners from the Power 5 conferences sent a formal letter to Congress asking for legislature to be passed creating a uniform, national standards for all universities to follow. It’s a topic that will be discussed at Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting chaired by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and could be finalized without any input from thousands of the student-athletes who will be most affected by the decision.
That’s an unwelcomed possibility for the approximately 3,000 student-athletes that make up the five organizations who—along with USC sociology professor Dr. Harry Edwards—have penned a letter to Congress asking for their input to be considered during these legislative sessions.
“The athletes need to be involved,” said Egi, who founded the No More Names organization that has signed off on the letter. “This affects every student-athlete so there is no reason that any student-athlete should be unaware that this is possible.”
The No More Names organization was formed in 2018 but grew to prominence as a student-athlete led organization focused on social justice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in May. It has a core of 11 current and former student-athletes with a community reaching over 2,000.
Michigan football player Hunter Reynolds, the founder and co-president of College Athlete Unity, a newly formed organization of 600 student-athletes, said he felt left out when he found out the Power 5 commissioners were planning to meet with Congress to discuss the future of name, image, and likeness. For him, it was an issue that hit close to home after he was prohibited from starting a for-profit YouTube channel to teach children football during his spare time.
“A lot of people who I’ve spoken to personally didn’t even know that the Power 5 commissioners were meeting with anyone,” said Reynolds a defensive back for the Wolverines. “I just have the feeling that there’s not a lot of transparency right now.”
That’s why Minnesota football player Benjamin St-Juste, the other co-president of College Athlete Unity, said he got involved with the letter to Congress. The Golden Gophers’ rising senior said he wants student-athletes to have a seat at the table when their rights are being discussed.
“They’re about to vote or pass laws about our basic rights to have name, image, and likeness, and student-athletes were never involved in that decision,” he said. “We just really want to have a say. We really just want our opinion to be at least heard.”
To Egi, the best solution is for the NCAA to retract its current proposal and begin polling student-athletes to see what they want in national name, image, and likeness legislation.
“This is a decision that impacts student-athletes so greatly,” Egi said. “They deserve to have a say.”
Egi’s No More Names organization created a petition asking for the Fair Pay To Play Act passed in California to become the national standard for name, image, and likeness.
Congress’s meeting will commence at 2:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Letter to Congress:
To the Senate Judiciary Committee,
Today, the Commissioners of the NCAA’s Power 5 Conference will testify before you in order to undermine the efforts of student-athletes advocating for a more just and equitable collegiate athletics system.
The letter from these Commissioners asks for legislation that would uniformly ensure that all universities across the country adhere to a national standard to regulate economic opportunities regarding the name, image, and likeness (NIL) for college athletes. Their letter asserts that college athletes should be valued as students and not employees. It asserts that any national regulation should require a student-athlete in any athletic program to complete a full semester before the student-athlete can be granted an NIL license and grants the conferences the authority to willfully deny NIL deals.
This proposal is highly restrictive, controlling, and detrimental to the well-being, best interests, and basic rights of student-athletes. In this way, these policies also stand to further disproportionately impact Black student-athletes who make up the majority of those student-athletes participating in revenue generating sports.
Importantly, it leaves our voices silent, and is being brought forward to you today without significant input from student-athletes within the NCAA.
Enough is enough. We are being rushed to address a civil rights crisis amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic that has proven once again, the need for Congressional action to ensure equitable policies protect student-athletes.
We are a collective of current and former student-athletes, including College Athletes Unity, College Athletes for No More Names, Coalition for African Diaspora Student-Athletes and Athletes Igniting Action, along with thousands of student-athletes across the country who demand that our voices be heard during these congressional hearings and beyond.
While our current sports climate has changed drastically given the ongoing pandemic, the resurgence of equity and access for athletes as a pressing issue is front and center. We demand that those in power act in accordance with the will of student-athletes who are so often marginalized within a process that strips us of our collective power.
Secondly, we urge Congress to use the ‘Fair Pay to Play Act’ signed by Governor Newsom in the state of California as model legislation and that it be considered, as federal policy, to go into effect by Fall 2020 - and that an equitable system that places the needs of students first is pursued.
We believe that it is our fundamental right to have the security and freedom to create meaningful opportunities for ourselves and for our families. Not only is this sentiment reflected in this bill, but it was one of the sole driving factors for LeBron James’ involvement in support of it.
That is why, earlier this week, we launched a petition to safeguard our interests in this hearing. We will no longer accept the status quo and wait on the sidelines while decisions about our lives are made by those who do not represent us.
Any legislative efforts that seek to address these issues must include the voice of student-athletes.
Our rights. Our fight.
Athletes for No More Names,
College Athletes Unity,
Athletes Igniting Action
Coalition for African Diaspora Student-Athletes
Athletes For Change
Dr. Harry Edwards