After one year of college athletes being able to earn compensation based on their fame through what many refer to as name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals, there is one glaring problem. Far too many athletes, sports agents, and lawyers have questions about the process, seek information about how to review and negotiate contracts, and desire assistance with financial decisions surrounding the currency they are now generating or managing.
Spreading education about issues surrounding NIL is not an easy task, and causing anyone to pay attention to what people have to say on the subject can also be a challenge. Sometimes, it is easier to cut through the noise when the information is being shared by someone who was in the listener’s shoes or at least in the shoes of the people that the service providers (i.e., lawyers) hope to represent, which is an experiment that is about to take place at Texas A&M.
Trayveon Williams, who is a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, has committed himself to serve as an adjunct professor at Texas A&M, teaching a course on NIL athlete advocacy with sports attorney and sports business consultant Alex Sinatra by his side. It will be a course that is not just catered to current and former college athletes, but also to future lawyers and sports agents so that they understand and appreciate the best practices of representing their athlete clients, and that they should stay away from self-promotion that can put their athlete clients at risk of negative consequences.
“It’s vitally important to teach future athlete advocates, agents, and attorneys how to best represent their athlete clients,” Sinatra said when discussing the forthcoming course. “Zealous advocacy is vital, but too often athletes aren’t given a say in how they are represented. By having a former college athlete and current professional athlete co-teach the class with me, we will begin to construct a system where both athletes and advocates best know how to interact and support each other. We will be shaping a whole new generation of informed advocates and informed athletes so the sports industry as a whole is elevated to a more human level. Athletes are humans first.”
This is an excellent concept. At the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where I currently serve as an adjunct professor for Sports Law, I am able to offer students a course that goes over athlete agent laws, state NIL laws (and modifications thereto), school NIL policies, the NCAA’s interim NIL policy and guidance, the states that allow high school athletes to participate in NIL activity, challenges for international students when it comes to NIL, proposed federal regulation, and review different types of NIL contracts (including sports agent representation contracts). I may need to incorporate an athlete’s personal perspective in future classes on the subject matter.
I hope that Texas A&M and other schools take this a step further and proactively offer their students the opportunity to assist current athletes with pro bono contract advice, particularly for those athletes who do not have the resources to pay for legal counsel, as I suggested at the NIL Summit that took place in Atlanta mid-June.
Darren Heitner is the founder of Heitner Legal. He is the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @DarrenHeitner.