After a year of finding their voices against the backdrop of a national racial reckoning, athletes at historically Black colleges and universities now have another tool of empowerment at their disposal: their names, images and likenesses.
New state and NCAA rules for athletes using their name, image and likeness allow athletes to make money in a variety of ways, including sponsorships, autographs and private lessons or clinics relating. Athletes can align themselves with local and national brands that share their values.
For HBCU athletes, they get to capitalize on compensation that has been a long time coming and use their status to support Black- and HBCU-owned businesses.
“Any time that a student-athlete has the opportunity to be exposed, be compensated financially, is going to be good,” said Shalon Pillow, the women’s basketball coach at Florida A&M. “The great thing about Florida, there’s no state taxes, so that could even give us a little more of an edge.”
Compared to their Division I counterparts, most athletic departments at HBCUs spend much less on recruiting, operating, total expenses and head coach salaries because less revenue is generated by their sports.
For example, FAMU’s athletic department broke even in 2017 after 10 years of operating with a steep deficit. That year, FAMU spent $8.5 million — a decrease of $1.2 million, or 12 percent, from 2016 — by reducing salaries and combining teams to keep travel costs low, according to its 2017 financial statement. The department generated $8.6 million.
By comparison in 2017, Florida’s athletic department spent almost $134 million on operating expenses and generated $135 million in operating revenue.
This dynamic makes it harder for HBCUs to recruit top-rated athletes. The more money an athletic department can spend, the more attractive the school is to recruits. Consider UF’s new $85 million athletic facility, which is scheduled to be done by next summer and include a recording studio and virtual reality gaming centers. It’s UF’s attempt to keep up with the recruiting arms race.
Because of limited funding, FAMU upgraded its football field house last year for the first time since 1983 with a target budget of $750,000 and received $10 million to improve its football stadium, Bragg Memorial.
Research suggests that many Black athletes feel more comfortable and thrive at HBCUs as opposed to predominantly white institutions. But some feel compelled to attend the latter because of those schools’ financial statuses and national athletic renown. Name, image and likeness rules can help lure athletes to HBCUs.
“We don’t go to big enough schools, we don’t get a lot of attention like if we were going to UCLA or Oregon, schools that already have a lot of attention,” said Aniya Hoggatt, a track and field athlete at FAMU. “So athletes being able to capitalize just on their social media presence to get sponsors and different opportunities, I think that it’s great.”
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Since the murder of George Floyd by then- Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020, many celebrities and famous Black athletes have thrown their support behind HBCUs. For example, the 2021 NBA All-Star Game honored HBCUs. Three referees who called the game attended HBCUs. Vice President Kamala Harris, a graduate of Howard University, spoke. Singer Gladys Knight, a graduate of Shaw University, sang Lift Every Voice And Sing, often referred to as the Black national anthem. And the NBA and its players association donated $3 million to HBCUs and those affected by the coronavirus.
The game took place days after FAMU and LeBron James announced an apparel partnership, which began July 1. To FAMU graduate basketball player Bryce Moragne, the timing of this deal worked out perfectly with name, image and likeness laws in Florida becoming effective that day.
“Just LeBron James giving FAMU notoriety is going to help all the student- athletes here be able to have access to different sponsorships and be able to reach out to different companies,” the Hillsborough High alumnus said.
FAMU defensive back Eric Smith has two sponsorships: one with Positivity Alkaline Water, a bottled water manufacturer and distributor, and one with Get Laced, a shoelace company. Since football requires hydration and shoelaces, they seemed like a perfect fit.
Also, Positivity Alkaline Water and Get Laced are Black-owned businesses. The former is owned by a FAMU graduate, which made it even more special, Smith said.
“We bonded immediately because FAMU is one big family,” he said.
Smith saw potential in these business relationships. If the businesses would invest in him, he’d do what he could to invest back in them by giving his teammates his promotional code for deals on bottled water and advertise the shoelaces by wearing them during televised games.
“I think (name, image and likeness) is a great platform to be able to use your voice and also make money off your talents, skills and the recognition that you have on and off the field,” he said. “The NCAA and Florida state legislature closing out that agreement to let college athletes make money off their names is outstanding.”
Contact Payton Titus at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @petitus25.