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New initiative aims to protect Philadelphia student athletes in NIL deals

Credit: John Cole/Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
January 26, 2024

PHILADELPHIA— Lawmakers and local athletes met at Temple University this week to announce a new public-private partnership aimed at helping student athletes in Philadelphia learn how to protect the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) in paid product promotions. 

Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas and representatives of Temple University Beasley School of Law also detailed the introduction of a proposed NIL Youth Protection Bill, which Thomas described as a “first in the nation.” 

“We are here today as legislators and educators to step up for student athletes in the city of Philadelphia, especially those who are in poverty and who are struggling,” Thomas, who is sponsoring the legislation, said. 

The partnership has created a hotline for student athletes and their parents in Philadelphia to call for free legal advice on potential NIL deals. Temple Law students will screen the calls on the hotline, which is already active. 

“Our program is built on three pillars,” said Ken Jacobsen, professor and Director of the Sports Law Program at Temple University Beasley School of Law. “It’s built on education, it’s built on protection, and it’s built on prevention.” 

If a student athlete calls the hotline about a specific NIL deal, the call wiill immediately go to Jacobsen or a board-certified lawyer who are specialists in dealing with NIL contracts. If someone isn’t available when the student calls, they can leave a message to receive a call back by the next day.

In addition to the hotline, Jacobsen said there will be easy-to-understand publication materials and web-based resources so student athletes know what their rights are.

The ‘wild West’

NIL officially became part of collegiate athletics in July 2021, following a decision from the U.S Supreme Court. In December 2022, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) approved an NIL policy, making Pennsylvania one of 29 states that has permitted NIL deals for high school athletes.

“Two and a half years ago, there was a dramatic change in the law, which many think is good, and I think is good for the student athletes who were exploited for too long by colleges and universities who made money off of their backs,” Jacobsen said. 

Jacobsen described NIL as “the wild west,” and although he supports athletes being compensated, he explained that it’s been a difficult process for student athletes to navigate.

“Where do you and we expect a 14, 15, 16 year old student to know what contract language is appropriate, to learn and to understand the kinds of risks, and kinds of rewards that might be available even if they’re allowed to get an NIL deal?” Jacobsen said.

The PIAA NIL policy states that high schools and coaches are not allowed to participate in the NIL process for student athletes. Jacobsen added that there are penalties for the student athlete if they enter an improper NIL deal, which can negatively affect the team they play for and ultimately, the student athlete’s eligibility. 

“We want to get to these students before they make a mistake,” Jacobsen said. “We want to get these students before they enter into an improper deal. We want to get to these students before they do something that affects their eligibility.”

Sandy Tanner, an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball coach in Philadelphia, described a player on his team last year who turned down a potential NIL deal to promote trading cards for a few hundred dollars a month, since his future college coach told him not to worry about it right now. 

The player, whom he did not mention by name, was a top recruit and is now playing at the collegiate level. Tanner said a hotline like the one unveiled Wednesday could have provided guidance for the student on that potential NIL deal. 

NIL compensation began while Jaaliyah Evans and Olivia Vance, both members of Temple University’s Women’s volleyball team, were in college. They agreed that a resource like the hotline for Philadelphia’s high school athletes is “something that is so valuable.”

The NIL Youth Protection Bill was unanimously passed by Philadelphia City Council last year, but then-Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney failed to sign it into law, resulting in a “pocket veto.”

Thomas, who also coaches high school basketball, reintroduced the legislation on Thursday during Philadelphia City Council’s first session of the year. 

He said the bill will first go through Philadelphia City Council’s Education Committee, where he is chairperson, and then will proceed to the council floor. 

“There’s nothing that says that we’re legally obligated to do this,” Thomas said. “But at the same time, there’s nothing that says we legally can’t do it.” He added that he didn’t want politics to get in the way of a program that he believes will help student athletes from across the city. 

“But at the end of the day, the reason we’re reintroducing the legislation is because we think it’s important that this be something that the city is legally obligated to provide, even if it is a public-private partnership,” Thomas said. 

If passed, the bill would “establish provisions related to education and counseling for certain Philadelphia youth and their families who are considering licensing publicity rights, all under certain terms and conditions.” It would apply to Philadelphia households with annual income of less than $150,000.

However, if the legislation doesn’t pass, the current partnership and program would remain unchanged. 

Thomas believes that Philadelphia will be setting an example to other major cities across the country, particularly those with student athletes living in poverty. He said it remains to be seen if the model works yet, but says if it does, he thinks it is a model other cities can replicate.

Since the program is new, Thomas said he would like to gather information from high school athletes in each sport and season and then determine how it could be improved.

“We think that we can create a new precedent as it relates to public-private partnerships with sports spaces, specifically to look at issues around NIL,” he said.

State Sen. Jimmy Dillon (D-Philadelphia), who serves on the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee, described the initiative as a “great partnership” and said hopefully they can take what is being done to “make it spread throughout the Commonwealth.” 

At the most recent meeting of the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee hearing in November, PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi said the state’s NIL program is going smoothly so far. 

The bicameral, bipartisan committee oversees PIAA-sanctioned sports and meets to approve the organization’s annual reports.

Dillon told the Capital-Star following the press conference that he will update the committee on the NIL partnership at its next meeting. 

Jacobsen emphasized that he’s looking forward to seeing the impact for Philadelphia student athletes, but added he believes this will be a model to follow. 

He said his law students will benefit from real-world experience with NIL issues and high school students will have guidance to navigate a new dimension of scholastic sports without costing the city money.

“It’s Philly-based, but I would be very surprised if this isn’t picked up either elsewhere in Pennsylvania or across the country,” Jacobsen said. 

The hotline number is 215-204-7787.

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This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.