NIL, Social Media and Leveling the Playing Field

During COVID-19, stuck at home and bored, two twin sisters named Haley and Hanna Cavinder began to create TikTok videos. The twins were, at the time, sophomore players on the women’s basketball team at Fresno State.

In their videos, the two dribbled basketballs to the rhythm of songs. The content became a smash hit, and by the end of the summer, the two young women had over 4 million followers across various social media platforms. When the Supreme Court ruling in Alston v. NCAA at the end of June 2021 paved the way for collegiate athletes to profit off their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), the Cavinder twins were one of the first to benefit.

The two young women signed a deal with Boost Mobile that plastered their image on a billboard in Times Square. They signed with Six Star Pro Nutrition, and there are other deals in the works yet to be disclosed.

NIL has created an opportunity for entrepreneurial advancement that, for years, athletes were expressly prohibited from. Some scholars have speculated that, due to the increased chance of visibility and monetization, NIL will make sports more equitable for all genders and races. But, as the first few months after the NIL ruling has shown, it is the athletes who already have media exposure and access to internet and technology who have been able to benefit first. As sports and social media continue to merge, institutions should take into consideration the ways in which equity comes into play online, and what young athletes need to learn in order to take advantage of the entrepreneurial options now available to them.Dr. Jennifer HoffmanDr. Jennifer Hoffman

"The early activity has revealed the places where many would have guessed that things would quickly emerge," said Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, an associate professor with the Center for Leadership in Athletics at the University of Washington, said, “ So, athletes who already have visibility because of their sport, or families with an understanding of marketing that can share that with their children, much the way many college families know how to pull the levers that propel you to a college scholarship.”

Since the pandemic began, the digital divide between urban, rural, and suburban areas has become clearer. According to the Pew Research Center, only 72% of adults in the U.S. say they have broadband internet access at home. However, roughly 80% of all surveyed owned a smart phone.

“We have to be really careful that we understand there’s wide variation in access to those tools, we can’t assume that any one person understands how to use those tools better than another based on privilege,” said Hoffman. “We don’t actually know who is highly skilled and who isn’t until they come to our campus. That’s where we need to be clear as institutions about how we’re assessing the skills students have, figuring out what we can do that’s educationally purposeful,” said Hoffman.

The key to this, said Hoffman, might be the actual ruling of Alston vs. NCAA, which enabled the rule change for NIL.

“The Alston case provides an avenue for educational benefit. The big schools that have access to resources to help an athlete who may not have the tools can much more easily make sure athletes get access to those tools,” said Hoffman, clarifying that whatever the university chooses to provide “has to be an educational benefit, like [a class called] Entrepreneurship 101 and the students are learning about how to use social media.”

Dr. Kirsten Hextrum, an assistant professor of at the University of Oklahoma and author of Special Admission: How College Athletic Recruitment Favors White Suburban Athletes, said that in the past, student athletes weren’t able to use any scholarship funds to cover the cost of anything mentioned outside a syllabus.

“Most syllabuses don’t say you’re required to have a laptop. Or high-speed broadband. It’s implied,” said Hextrum. “Alston is saying we really need to look at what is required to be a student.”

“If an institution is interested in allowing all student athletes to have an equal shot, then they will have to come up with some sort of across-the-board programming to support all student athletes,” said Hextrum. “I’m not convinced institutions are interested, nor do they feel the pressure. The reason we have an academic support unit for athletes only came about from athletes and public activism to say, you have a responsibility to provide education.”

Institutions should be focused on education, said Hextrum. After all, that is their first purpose.

“They’re not supposed to be focused on supporting athletes to make money," she said. "Is this the mission of higher education to make students entrepreneurial brands? I’d say no. But they should set [students] up with a wider skill-set range.”

Those opportunities may not exist inside the athletic department, but in other departments at the university or college. At the University of Oregon, Kelli Matthews teaches athletes how to protect their image and be responsible. Matthews isn’t a part of the athletics team, she’s in the school of communication. Dr. Donna Davis, who works with Matthews in the School of Communication, is an expert on the relationship between digital life and the user.

“It’s paramount that universities that have athletes have some training to protect them, the university, to protect the sport,” said Davis. “How do they protect themselves from becoming a part of the news? [The students] won’t have that savvy at all. The lure of fame, especially to an 18-year-old, it’s pretty enormous. Entering college [freshmen], they become a vulnerable population, based on the access they have without insight into consequences and the feeling of invulnerability, when in fact they’re very vulnerable.”

Dr. Kirsten HextrumDr. Kirsten HextrumSocial media isn’t just about who or what is posted, it’s also about who sees the content. And that is entirely out of the hands of the university and instead in the hands of computer intelligence, algorithms designed to keep the user interfacing with the app. Algorithms are not written by computers, they are written by humans, whose internal and invisible biases will then be replicated.

“What are the algorithms that determine who gets shared most?” asked Davis. “They’re all driven by the people who design the algorithm, who are overwhelmingly White male.”

The Cavinder twins fit into an algorithm’s’ typical social media appetite, said Hextrum.

“There’s long standing research in women’s sport which is that women athletes only get the attention if they present themselves as these highly sexualized objects,” said Hextrum. “Not to take away from their talent, but it’s not like their athletic skills were the main driver [of their deals.]”

“What we’ll see with NIL is writ large as a reflection of the dominate values in our culture, they will be ones to profit sooner,” said Hextrum.

Social media’s dark side, the artificial comparisons between the user and the world presented to them, or the importance placed by young people in the number of likes or followers they reach, can be counterbalanced by social media’s ability to create community, according to Dr. Jenna Drenten, an associate professor and acting chair of the Department of Marketing at Loyola University Chicago and an expert in influencer and celebrity culture.

“There are many ways in which social media provides connection, and in that way, you can find a community,” said Drenten. “There are ways that colleges can foster community that then benefits algorithmic attention.”

As an example, Drenten said if one female athlete on the soccer team were to post a picture on Instagram, and then everyone else on the team immediately like and comment on that post, it can tell Instagram’s algorithm that this is popular content. The site will then push that post onto the Discovery page, increasing its chances of being seen.

Social media, said Drenten, has changed the landscape of who has access. And while true fairness in media will be difficult to come by, athletes will finally have total control over their outside persona. Learning how to control that persona is something institutions, said Drenten, need to teach.

“Institutions can’t make the assumption that young people know how to use digital media for their marketing purposes," she said. "It’s totally different from being a consumer,. "As they train individuals, just as a sports management approach would be, train them in how to talk to press, present yourself on game day, how to best represent your university and yourself.”

Liann Herder can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Read more:

HBCU Students To Lead $7.5 Million Venture Capital Fund

Pexels Nataliya Vaitkevich 7173026The Black Venture Capital Consortium (BVCC) and the Ford Foundation closed a $7.5 million fund that students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will help manage while learning from experienced venture capitalists.

Less than 2% of venture capitalists are people of color. And studies have shown that white investors tend to be racially biased in their investment choices. To BVCC and Ford, this new fund aims to address both sides of such investment transactions, particularly to increase the number of venture capitalists from underrepresented backgrounds.

"The $7.5 million venture fund, a first of its kind for HBCU students, is the final component of BVCC's comprehensive two-year venture capital training program," said Malcolm Robinson, executive director of BVCC. "Top HBCU students who work on the student venture fund as well as participate in BVCC's other training programs will graduate with up to two years of venture capital experience."

Students from the following HBCUs will work on the fund: Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Hampton University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Prairie View A&M University, and Delaware State University.

"Being an HBCU student, I normally would not have this type of opportunity to work directly for a venture capital fund prior to my graduation," said Kendall Lemons, a student at Prairie View A&M University, one of the fund's HBCU partners. "Gaining more investment experience is key to crafting one's self as a future investor. BVCC is now allowing us to get that experience year-round."

Depeisha McGruder, the chief operating officer of the Ford Foundation, has joined the Board of Trustees of the general partner for the student venture fund.

"As a proud graduate of Howard University, I know firsthand the wealth of talent and initiative that exists at HBCUs and the transformative impact these students can have on the industry," said McGruder. "I cannot wait to see what they produce in the months and years to come."

Read more:

Two Grants To Help UC Santa Cruz Improve Faculty Diversity

The University of California (UC) Santa Cruz has received two competitive grants that will help underrepresented minorities pursue faculty careers.

Students in the Latin American and Latino Studies doctoral program.Students in the Latin American and Latino Studies doctoral program.Awarded by the UC-Hispanic Serving Institutions Doctoral Diversity Initiative, the grants will fund two new diversity-oriented programs: “Preparing for Faculty Careers in the Biomedical Field" at the Institute for the Biology of Stem Cells (IBSC) and the "Latin American and Latino Studies Future Faculty Program."

The new IBSC program will work to increase recruitment and retention in the university's biomedical doctoral programs through strengthening support systems, providing funding to attend national meetings and communicating with students' families, among other initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Latin American and Latino Studies program will offer an eight-week summer publishing institute and a full-day job market preparation workshop to doctoral students, helping them "leverage and articulate their qualifications for a wide range of different academic positions," according to UC Santa Cruz officials.

Read more:

Bowdoin College Creates Chairs to Honor Esteemed Black Graduates

Bowdoin CollegeBowdoin CollegeBowdoin College will create four endowed professorships to honor four celebrated Black graduates of the institution. The new professorships will help recruit faculty whose research focuses on race, racism, and racial justice.

"Through incredibly generous and anonymous gifts, these new professorships will benefit the College in several critical ways, including with fresh and exciting intellectual and curricular insights and experiences and by providing role models and mentors for junior faculty and our students," said Dr. Clayton Rose, president of Bowdoin College.

The four new chairs will be named after the following Black alumni: Matthew D. Branche, Iris W. Davis, Rasuli Lewis, and Frederic Morrow. The College added that the professorships will also play a key role in attracting and retaining faculty, particularly those of color.

"Our new colleagues will engage in and catalyze interdisciplinary scholarship on issues of race, racism, and racial justice and enhance our students' understanding of these issues as we prepare them to make change to lead in the world," said Rose.

Read more:



National Weather

Click on map for forecast