What Does NIL Mean for Athletic Trainers?

(No, this article was not written to tell ATs that they can sign endorsements.) 

(But we also aren’t here to stop an AT from using their NIL. Just sayin’.) 

Maybe you’re curious why Athletic Trainers (ATs) would need to know about Name, Image and Likeness (NIL). Here are four reasons why: 

1. Eligibility

The career of an athletic training professional, especially those on college and high school campuses, is spent serving athletes. The athletic training facility is a communal place for conversation and growth. ATs work hard to keep athletes safe and healthy to get them back in the game. Although the common examples people think of are preventative care and catering to injuries athletes sustain, all health and safety of athletes is rooted in strong education. 

With the goal of keeping athletes in the game, this education can now include NIL-related compliance pitfalls. To date, the most frequent questions are: 

  • As an athlete, can I use school logos, marks, or facilities in NIL activities? 
  • As an athlete, I know I need to disclose my deals, but how do I do that? 
  • As a staff member for the school, what can I do in connection with an athlete’s NIL activities? 
  • As an international student-athlete, can I engage in NIL activities? 

Largely, all these questions and more will be answered in a school policy. If you are an athletic trainer on campus, it is wise to understand your schools’ NIL policy. If you are off-campus and/or own a private practice, it may be valuable to review the NIL state landscape both at the college and high school levels, in addition to the NCAA’s Interim NIL Policy

Informed on NIL, athletic trainers can be on watch – potentially protecting athletes in a new way. 

2. Physical Health

What an athlete puts in their body is crucial.  

NIL deals are hitting every industry. From fast food and supplements to mental and physical therapy, the messages athletic trainers preach to athletes on topics like nutrition and rehabilitation may come with a new flavor. Emily Cole from Duke Track & Field is even writing a book about nutrition called Athl-EATS, set to publish May 2022. 

While the NIL frontier is often described in an opportunistic light, from the eyes of an AT there are still some concerns. Many state laws and nearly all school policies have set prohibitions on certain vice industries – namely alcohol, tobacco, and substances banned by the NCAA – but additional concerns may exist for areas ancillary to athletic training practices, such as endorsement deals for ankle braces or various equipment. 

Though athletic trainers and athletic departments alike are limited in their ability to dictate the deals their athletes pursue, additional layers of education on NIL deals as they relate to physical health could go a long way. 

3. Mental Health

To date, the most common and highest paying NIL activities have been posting content on social media. There are a variety of factors contributing to this, but one consistency for content sharing is that an athlete’s NIL value is largely connected to their follower count.  

A decade in the sports social media endorsement industry has shown that more posts lead to more engagement, which lead to more followers, which lead to more value. As more and more athletes begin to recognize this, some athletes will begin to pay closer attention to their social channels. 

However it is important to have a balance here. Athletes’ NIL value does not determine their value as a person. Finding the balance between the importance of relationships, self-care, and the demands of being a collegiate athlete is a full plate and choosing to invest in one’s marketability could contribute to the mental health conversation. Be open. Be honest. Talk about your fears, pressures, and successes with people who care about you. Use the athletic training room as a safe place for dialogue. Athletic trainers play an important role in supporting the mental health of their athletes. 

4. Social Health

While there was a lot of talk about how NIL would hurt locker room dynamics, there have also been some great stories, too. 

Paige Bueckers was able to snag free shoes for all of her teammates through her partnership with StockX. 

Kenny Picketts used his first NIL deal to provide his linemen with weekly pregame meals. 

Even team-wide deals being offered to programs, including Division III Whittier College’s football team. 

In addition, here are firsthand accounts from DeMarvion Overshown and Kaiden Smith talking about the positives it has brought to their programs. 

Whether this is the reality across the nation or just positive press, there is an importance is ATs keeping their ears open for this. Athletic trainers and medical staff often find themselves in and near conversations that coaches and administrators never hear. ATs are sometimes the first to recognize a shift in a team dynamic. Staying alert to the latest NIL activity among the players may create an opportunity for much-needed conversation about the athlete’s social health. 

Altogether, as more and more businesses continue to step into the NIL industry, we expect an uptick in deals which may affect the athletic training profession and the patients it treats. Therefore, it is important for athletic trainers to be informed on NIL and its ever-changing landscape.  

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