“The NCAA is not above the law.” Those seven words capped Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s searing concurring opinion issued in connection with Monday’s (June 21) unanimous (9-0) U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Alston v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the Court held that the NCAA’s limits on education-related benefits constituted a violation of antitrust law. Though the legal issue decided was relatively narrow in scope, the ruling sent shockwaves across the country, calling into question, and in many ways, paving the way for future challenges to the NCAA’s “amateurism” rules – including the arcane limits on student-athletes’ abilities to receive compensation from endorsements. This ruling came during an already perilous time for the NCAA, which has been facing the specter of chaos wrought by a slew of states’ name, image and likeness (NIL) legislations coming down the pipe, and Congress failing to pass the uniform legislation at the 11th hour last week. Now, just when it seemed that, after years of foot-dragging, the buck would be coming back to the NCAA for it to finally take ownership of meaningful reforms to its stance on NIL. NCAA President Mark Emmert circulated a memorandum yesterday, Wednesday (June 23), advising its constituent colleges and universities that they (not the NCAA) would be responsible for adopting their own policies within the not-yet-developed interim NIL guidelines to be hastily prepared by the NCAA – all in just seven (!) days’ time.
Lucky for you, I will not shirk my responsibility to deliver a selection of noteworthy stories in this week’s Spotlight:
As we inch closer to the summer solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere (the first day of summer for those of you who were asleep in science class), the heat is not rising only on the thermometer, but also in the halls of Congress, where the push for federal name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation forges ahead of the July 1 “cliff” — when at least six of the states’ own NIL legislation (including the latest, and perhaps most significant entrant, Texas) will come into effect, and the world of collegiate athletics will be turned upside down.
With that backdrop, the Senate Commerce Committee recently convened for its second NIL hearing in as many weeks — this time, commendably giving current and former athletes, and the father of Jordan McNair (a University of Maryland football player who tragically died of heat stroke during a team practice in 2015) an opportunity to speak for themselves. Although there remains general bipartisan consensus on the need for NIL legislation, loftier — but no less important — aims of mandating the provision of health care and other benefits to collegiate athletes along with the NIL legislation, may spoil the brew in an oft-deadlocked Congress. Still, various states and universities including my alma mater (ON, WISCONSIN!), are preparing as if NIL rights are a foregone conclusion. Buckle up, folks, this situation looks like it will continue to develop over the next few days and come down to the wire.
Less than three weeks remain for either the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or for Congress to act to stem the impending chaos on July 1 when college athletes’ name, image and likeness (NIL) laws go into effect in several states. These laws will enable college athletes to enter into endorsement and licensing deals and otherwise monetize their NIL without reprisal from their school or the NCAA itself. This past Wednesday, with the NCAA being an extremely unlikely long shot to meaningfully act, a panel of witnesses consisting of law professors, a head coach, a college sports analyst and NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert (but conspicuously no current athletes) were convened to testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation as it considered various legislative proposals addressing NIL rights, as well as health care and scholarships. Overall, there appears to be bipartisan support (no small feat in D.C.) for the core issue of monetizing NIL rights, but not all agree on how to accomplish those aims. Still, the clock is ticking, and while we’re about as close as we have ever been to sweeping federal legislation giving athletes the same rights that their fellow students have, the question must be asked: “If not now, when?”
As we continue to play the NIL waiting game, I won’t keep you waiting any longer for the highlights in this week’s Spotlight.
Athletes and entertainers are people, too. Albeit, incredibly talented people, but deserving of the same treatment with dignity and respect as how we would want ourselves to be treated. For better or worse, sometimes their larger than life fame, accomplishments and performances on courts, fields, screens and stages, cause others to lose sight of that fact. But, that is no excuse for the type of treatment of, or behavior towards several high-profile athletes over the past week or so. Specifically, in plain sight during the NBA playoffs, we have witnessed the demeaning acts of basketball “fans” toward three of the league's point guards in the form of pouring popcorn on Washington Wizards point guard, Russell Westbrook, spitting at Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young and throwing a water bottle at Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving. The first two incidents resulted in indefinite bans, and the third resulted in a felony assault charge.
Perhaps the most insidious has been the apparent lack of regard for mental health on display at the French Open, as professional tennis player Naomi Osaka was fined and threatened with disqualification from the Grand Slam event for failing to meet with the media – notwithstanding her open struggles with anxiety and depression. Osaka later made the tough but roundly supported move (including by her sponsors) to withdraw from the tournament to take time for herself. Hopefully these recent events will be a much needed flashpoint for change in sports and beyond.
With that weightier topic behind us, I’ll go back to our normal programming (corny dad jokes a-plenty!) in the form of the spotlighted stories below:
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