Name, Image and Likeness

By Ashleigh Tobin

WRGW District Radio

George Washington University’s student-athletes are taking advantage of the NCAA’s change in name, image and likeness policy by profiting off their name, while coaches and administrators warn of potential harm.

In July 2021, the NCAA shifted its existing name, image and likeness policy to grant more rights to student-athletes. Before the adjustment, student-athletes could not make a profit off of their name by entering brand deals; the modified policy allows them to do so in states where the law permits.

Currently, D.C. does not have laws regarding student-athletes using their name to pursue profit, pushing GW to create a school-specific policy. The policy includes guidelines on the content promoted in name, image and likeness partnerships, prohibiting student-athletes from entering deals surrounding gambling, alcohol and adult entertainment.

Women’s volleyball coach Katie Reifert and men’s basketball coach Chris Caputo both said that their athletes are utilizing the new policy to explore name, image and likeness deals, though GW is not a predominant sports university.

Director of Athletic Compliance for GW, Chandra Bierwirth, said the number of student-athletes who have entered deals this year could “be counted on my hands so far.” However, she added that she only has information about deals that have been completed and can not account for previous agreements.

If student-athletes are not currently involved in a deal, they still benefit from the improved policy as they own the rights to their name and therefore have the opportunity to seek out partnerships on their own accord.

The benefits of athletes being able to profit off their name, image, and likeness extend beyond the money they would receive from potential sponsors. Emmett Gill, an expert in the mental health of athletes, is currently working with student-athletes on name, image, and likeness deals for his app “AthleteTalk.”

When asked about the policy change, Gill said, “I think this is a positive change, and not just because of the money but because of the process. The process of branding yourself and expanding your identity, really understanding what N.I.L. is all about and how to pursue it has been positive for student athletes.”

Caputo agreed that allowing athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness is a positive step taken by the NCAA, but he said, “anytime you’re dealing with money, there are going to be negative impacts. You know, like anything in the business world, there are traps.” He said that he believes athletic departments have a responsibility to help educate athletes on potential pitfalls surrounding the name, image and likeness landscape.

Another potential consequence for student-athletes surrounds mental health and social media. By building up their presence, athletes are exposed to more criticism surrounding their play.

“It’s all about likes and followers in our society today. So what happens when an athlete can’t get or hold on to an N.I.L. deal? We’re talking about added anxiety, depression and trauma for student athletes,” Gill said.

Caputo and Gill agreed the change comes with inherent risks; however, both said they are confident that it was the right thing to do, as the benefits outweigh the costs for student-athletes.

Gill mentioned that one of the new policy’s positive and perhaps unexpected impacts is that female student-athletes are bringing more attention to their sports by using their name, and they are being compensated for doing so.

Athletics Compliance Officer for GW, Kelley Flint, said, “female athletes who have a social media presence now have an opportunity to blend their sport with social media. Before, they would have to pursue social media or pursue athletics, now they have the chance to go after both.”

The NCAA’s new policy benefits student-athletes at GW and across the country. However, the future of name, image and likeness remains uncertain. “The NCAA is gonna circle back to N.I.L. and I just hope that if they do enforce more restrictions that they don’t do it with such a heavy hand,” Gill said.