By Andrea Custis
California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation that will allow college student-athletes in the Golden State to profit from any use of their name, likeness, or image, and also allow athletes to hire agents to represent them.
Known as the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” the bill has the potential to radically change college athletics as we know it.
There has been mounting pressure on the NCAA in recent years to make changes to allow athletes to earn some kind of income while they are in school.
For decades, there have been allegations of varying severity alleging that students or their families have received illegal gifts of money or cars or clothes or other tangible benefits.
These allegations have led many to assert that athletes should be getting paid anyway and that these gifts should not be illegal.
In fact, the Northwestern University football team appealed to the National Labor Relations Board in 2014 in an attempt to unionize in order to guarantee certain rights and standards to govern the sport. Though the attempt failed, it only served to further calls for college student-athletes to be paid.
College student-athletes are often minorities from low-income backgrounds. For many children of color in low-income neighborhoods, sports serve as an outlet away from potentially dangerous activities.
Sports scholarships provide opportunities to attend college when a student might not have been able to afford the cost otherwise. However, once these students reach college and are unable to reap any monetary benefit from their athletic skills, many find themselves struggling to afford food or clothing or transportation.
While these student-athletes are struggling to make ends meet, their athletic abilities are being exploited to the tune of millions of dollars in labor each year.
According to some former college athletes, so much time is spent focusing on athletics that students are unable to pay adequate attention to building the experience necessary to get a regular job post-graduation. For some athletes, this means a possibility of no income after graduation if they aren’t immediately signing lucrative professional contracts.
College athletics is an extremely lucrative industry, with the NCAA earning more than $1 billion in revenues annually. That revenue is earned entirely off the backs of student-athlete labor.
Allowing student-athletes to hire an agent, sign endorsement deals, and own the rights to your own name and likeness is basically giving them the same rights that all other students and regular citizens already have.
What has essentially happened is student-athletes are told that if they want to play sports, they have to relinquish some of the rights and income they would ordinarily have access to and allow the NCAA to control it instead.
This legislation has the potential to change lives and help many families climb out of the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty. Allowing student-athletes to gain access to some of the revenue that the NCAA earns off their labor means that they can provide financial support to their own families.
At The Urban League of Philadelphia, we work tirelessly to improve and empower African Americans and other underserved populations.
For more than 100 years, we have worked to connect individuals in need with the resources that can help, such as civic organizations and public officials. Our programs provide job seekers with a path to employment, families with the stability to purchase a home, and students with the tools to succeed both inside and outside the classroom.
The Urban League of Philadelphia supports the efforts of the California legislature to enable college student-athletes to earn revenue that is rightfully theirs.
As such, we support the efforts of Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, and the accompanying efforts of Democratic state Reps. Dan Miller and Ed Gainey, both of Allegheny County, in their efforts to pass a similar law here in the Commonwealth.
Their legislation aims to accomplish the same goal – empowering college athletes and making sure they are fairly compensated for their work. We cannot continue to allow thousands of college athletes to put their bodies in harm’s way — exposing themselves to potentially career-altering injury — without giving them the means to profit financially off of those efforts.
While it is important to take the time to get it right, we urge members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate to pass this legislation and do right by our college student-athletes.
Andrea Custis is President & CEO of The Urban League of Philadelphia, an affiliate of the National Urban League.