Controversy grows over who benefits from NIL deals

Submitted photo Tatishe Nteta

NIL deals could promote athlete stardom over teamwork

Sports are no different from any other aspect of American society—race matters. The ubiquitous racial divide is rearing its ugly head as some athletes begin to profit from the NCAA’s new NIL policy.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst Political Science Professor Tatishe Nteta and his colleagues in 2018 found that Whites are less likely than Blacks to support college players getting paid. Now with the NCAA name, images and likenesses (NIL) policy in place since last summer, “a very clear racial divide” still exists in supporting players getting paid for commercial use of their name, image and likeness, the Massachusetts group found.

“We know that capitalism has racial undertones or overtones,” said Nteta recently to the MSR, “and of course, we’ll see those types of racial inequalities, that level of discrimination and prejudice that Black people in general experience in the marketplace, seen here as well.”

Arizona State University’s Global Sport Matters (GSM) in December reported that White support for NIL went up 9%, from 50% in 2014 to 59% in 2020. Black support decreased from 71% to 68% during the same time span. 

Blacks “are significantly more supportive of NCAA reform than Whites” according to the report. “This racial divide is a function of perceptions about ‘who benefits’ from NIL and other financial incentives or programs.”

Dr. Louis Moore, a history professor at Grand Valley State (Mich.) University, wrote for GSM in December that “who gets attention and strikes deals [by race] is not new,” adding that “ultra-talented Black women” won’t get the big NIL deals as their White counterparts. 

“When women athletes first started to sign major NIL deals in basketball, it was the White ballers who hit big,” he stressed. “The majority of Black women athletes won’t get their rightful share of endorsements because American companies don’t value their presence and don’t see them as marketable.”

Louis Moore

Moore later told the MSR, “I think that’s just part of this long hang-up American advertising companies have with dark skin. We could look at this as race and Whiteness versus Blackness.”

It’s not just college players—highly recruited high-schoolers are striking their own NIL deals as well. Is this encouraging a practice of “competitive narcissism,” an endless race among young athletes to see who can get the bigger and baddest deals, to seek stardom rather than be team players?

“I think that these younger players have grown up in an era where everything’s about them anyway,” continued Moore. “I think they are used to being in this position of highlighting themselves. Years ago I think it would have been a problem, but I think these kids [today] have grown up differently, so they’re a little bit more comfortable” with self-promotion.

NIL deals and who is getting them will continue to be viewed through a racial lens, both Nteta and Moore surmised.

“I think all the debate regarding NIL—who’s getting it, who’s not—it’s just again a microcosm of the larger world in which we see racial inequity,” concluded Nteta.