Once name, image and likeness (NIL) became a college sport reality after its acceptance by the NCAA in 2021, NIL deals now are a regular part of the landscape. But are Black women college athletes getting their fair share of the action?
Louisville Assistant Professor Dr. Ajhanai (AJ) Keaton, who studies the intersection of race, gender and organizations, is looking at today’s NIL market and seeing it from a historical perspective. She recently spoke to the MSR about what she’s seeing.
“We can assume that issues of racism, sexism, and misuse of Black women are still in play,” stressed the professor. She cited a couple of examples: former Miami basketball players Haley and Hanna Cavinder, who have become NIL darlings.
“I am thinking about the Cavinder twins in Miami, Keaton said. “They are good and talented [WBB players] but were not the best in the country.”
According to On3 that tracks NIL deals, the Cavinder sisters opted to exchange playing hoops for a social media career. The two siblings have reportedly earned over $1.6 million annually and collectively.
But LSU guard Angel Reese’s NIL valuation shot up to $1.3 million, good for No. 2 among female athletes and No. 5 overall, says On3. The basketball player became a big social media influencer despite the negative press she got after helping her school win a national title this past spring.
Reese took the brunt of unfair and unwarranted criticism for her play and bravado and turned it into NIL gold. She was called “angry” and other stereotypical adjectives often used to describe Black women when they don’t fit so-called normal standards, which ultimately resulted in more NIL deals.
But Keaton quickly warned that what happened for Reese isn’t the usual blueprint for other Black women athletes, especially she says, “how we think about Black women’s bodies, the marketability of Black women’s bodies.”
“I think Angel Reese is an interesting case study,” the professor pointed out. “I actually have my doctoral students looking into that matter. This might be an interesting case study on where do all Black women athletes have the freedom to be their authentic selves in the [same] way Angel Reese is being. Right now, I honestly see her as an outlier.”
Keaton also expressed concern that when Black females such as Reese become popular on such social media sites as Instagram and TikTok, their trendsetting ways are open to being “co-opted by White people, and…that hurts [Blacks’] financial opportunity,” she said. “I think NIL is not devoid of all of the different issues of racism we see play out capitalistically in the marketplace.”
“Given the stereotypes that Black women experience in society,” continued Keaton, referring to NIL deals, “we can’t assume that marketability exists for Black women.” Instead, she says, perceptions of who is desirable continue to persist when it comes to non-White folk.
“We can see how particular issues of racism,” said Keaton, were front and center in Reese’s case, referring to the now-junior LSU forward. Keaton hopes that more Black-owned, Black-women-featured companies, as well as other companies and products really think about how Black women athletes are so unique to a niche area of sports.
Keaton concluded that although NIL is currently a boon for most college athletes, which she supports, there are other concerns. “What I would like us to see is the humanity of female athletes,” she said, while always keeping in mind the “gender and racism and social institutions that Black female athletes still have to navigate.”