Cantwell: “Congress Cannot Pass an NIL Law That Just Ignores the Rights of Students.”

Name, Image, and Likeness Hearing Featured Testimony from Current and Former College Athletes, including Dallas Hobbs and Kelis Barton of WSU who submitted written testimony

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led a hearing to hear the voices of student-athletes as Congress debates legislation giving athletes more rights including control over their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL).

“Last week we heard from legal experts from the NCAA, a coach, and other individuals who talked about this,” Cantwell said. “But there is so much more to be done. Congress cannot pass an NIL law that just ignores the rights of students. It also has to hear, I believe, about the experiences in healthcare and scholarship that make important rights issues so central to this debate.”

Cantwell heard from Christina Chenault, a former Division I Track & Field athlete at UCLA, about the need for a federal law, to ensure the health, safety, and rights of student-athletes are protected. “I think there definitely needs to be a national bill put in place,” Chenault said.  “[T]he autonomy can't be put in place just for the institutions to take up individually. When that happens, especially in a system where athletes do not have the power within this system, the athletes are always going to be put on the backburner, or put at a state of disadvantage. So I think there should be a widespread bill that, like Mr. McNair stated, from a health and safety standpoint, can take the precedent of [the] Maryland [law].”

Cantwell also asked Chenault to describe the fear of retribution student athletes experience when pushed by their coaches to compete, even while injured: “Do you think that people knew who to go to talk to at the university besides the coaching team? Did you think of anybody that you could go to and approach at the university?”  

“I don't think athletes really trust that many professionals at the institution,” Chenault answered. “I think there's a big fear from athletes that it will all come back to their coaches, or in some way, have a financial implication on their end, regarding their scholarship or playing time or whatever the case may be, that will limit their ability to play or do what they love to do.

Sari Cureton, a former Division I Women’s Basketball player at Georgetown University, agreed saying, “As long as we put athletes first and we prioritize their right to monetize their NIL, and when we’re considering restrictions and things like that, I think that's the most important approach to a national legislation.”

Cantwell also focused on the importance of addressing student athletes’ mental health in her questioning with the witnesses. Chenault stressed, “For one, I think mental health shouldn't be reactive, it definitely has to be proactive… And the second thing is, I do think the psychologist should be catered specifically to the athlete, whether it's by sport, whether it's a sports psychologist specifically, or whether it's just the representation of gender or race as an availability or option for these athletes to be able to go to, so that is not just ‘one person fits all’ within mental health.”

Cureton followed up on that point saying that while there was a woman on the athletic staff while she was at Georgetown, “I think there also needs to be better safeguards in place on educating staff and coaches about the mental health needs of the athletes that they’re serving, so it needs to be proactive on every front… So I think that needs to be a change and a shift in the perspective and how we look at mental health in athletics.”

McNair, who tragically lost his son to heat stroke, also weighed in on the appropriate safeguards that need to be in place for student athletes.

“So there were plans in place, but they needed to be practiced and executed consistently,” McNair said. “So in the event that something does happen, we'll know what to do. Now, not only that, but again, student athletes need to know if the peak times they need to know their bodies and things of that nature.”

The hearing also covered some of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the implementation of NIL. Brown addressed the concerns of those seeking to limit NIL rights in the name of “protecting” students.

“Rather than letting the institution limit how we can use our name, image, and likeness,” Brown said. “I think… we could be allowed to learn I think about how NIL would work and be given workshops and that sort of thing, but I don't think we should be limited in terms of how we can use it. Maybe just taught or guided in terms of how best it could work.”

Video from the full hearing is available HERE.

The full transcript with corresponding timestamps to the video is available HERE.

Testimony from Dallas Hobbs can be found HERE and from Kelis Barton is HERE.