NCAA To Finally Consider Allowing Athletes To Benefit From Their Names, Images, Likenesses
Should college athletes be paid wages? In theory, yes. But I have yet to hear a feasible proposal from a practical standpoint to date. And there remain legal questions under Title IX unless female athletes are compensated in accordance with their male counterparts.
However, I am often asked whether I believe college athletes should have the right to earn money and my answer is always a resounding yes. The NCAA does not need to begin by compensating college athletes with a salary. Simply allow athletes the right to earn money from third parties, through the licensing of their publicity rights.
When I am talking about publicity rights, I am mainly referencing an individual’s right to commercialize his name, image and likeness. There currently exist many state statutes and common law protections to shield an individual’s ability to exploit his publicity rights and preclude others from commercializing those rights without the person’s consent. Violation of these laws often render the perpetrator liable for actual damages, including profits derived from the unauthorized use, punitive damages, treble damages and sometimes equitable relief in the form of an injunction prohibiting the third party from committing further commercial exploitation of the rights in question.
There is finally some hope that college athletes will be able to enforce their publicity rights. On May 14, the NCAA announced that it has appointed a working group to “examine issues highlighted in recently proposed federal and state legislation related to student-athlete name, image and likeness.”
The working group may propose rule modifications “tethered to education,” per Big East commissioner Val Ackerman. Ackerman is the working group co-chair.
Some college athletes would be able to earn significant income in exchange for the licensing of their publicity rights. Think about how much money Zion Williamson would have been able to receive during his freshman season at Duke. Why should he be precluded from such a benefit while the school he is enrolled in and the NCAA are able to earn massive amounts of money based on his name, image and likeness?
Certainly, the vast majority of college athletes will not have the same ability as Zion to earn substantial money from their publicity rights, or any money at all. But that is besides the point. They should at least have the right, as does every other American, to attempt to commcercialize their names, images and likeness.
I am not suggesting that schools and the NCAA need to compensate the players for their use of publicity rights. Surely, those entities are providing an important platform for the players on which to further build their brands and personalities. However, the NCAA should recognize that there is no inherent harm in simply allowing the players to enter into arrangements with third parties to exploit their publicity rights in exchange for financial gain.