California has started the ball rolling. A former college and pro football player hopes to give it a major push forward.
Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio State and Colts receiver who currently serves as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, plans to propose federal legislation that will take the new California law allowing college athletes to earn money from their names, images, and likenesses national.
“I actually think that we need to do something quickly, within the next year,” Gonzalez told ESPN.com. “I don’t think you have three years to figure this out. I think decisions will start happening immediately.”
A federal law, if crafted in a way that properly respects states’ rights, would supersede the California law and any other state law that may arise. Given that college sports operate on a national basis under the umbrella of the NCAA, it shouldn’t be hard to come up with something that would apply coast to coast.
But it could be difficult to ensure that college athletes are legitimately earning money from their names, images, and likenesses and not simply getting free money from the local car dealership that wants to do what it can to help the local university’s football program win games and in turn creates fluffed-up endorsement arrangements under which it gives players a free car and lots of cash to be an ambassador or whatever for Bobby Ray Jenkins Ford-Chrysler-Dodge! (I don’t know that there is such as thing as Bobby Ray Jenkins Ford-Chrysler-Dodge, but I definitely won’t be surprised if there is.)
“There are a lot of people who are trying to get a piece of the athlete who do not have their best interest in mind and are out for nefarious means,” Gonzalez said. “You can imagine a world where, if there were no guard rails in place, that it could get out of hand pretty quickly. That’s the lane you’re trying to carve. How do you do this to provide necessary and deserved benefits while not inviting a bigger problem alongside it?”
Still, the current model is grossly unfair to athletes. While no system will be perfect, any system in which the players have the ability to receive something more than an “education” many don’t want in the first place is better than the decades of exploitation that college athletes have endured, generating billions that go everywhere but into the pockets of the people who are responsible for making it.