DALLAS — Before today’s sermon, let me remind you about the story of Shannon Woolsey, a cheerleader from Houston who went to Navarro College in Corsicana and by sheer dumb luck ended up on a Netflix series last year called “Cheer.” By the time the show had run its course, Woolsey had accumulated more than 250,000 Instagram followers. Now she earns up to $5,000 each time she posts about Reebok, one of several companies paying for her pitch.
Woolsey, who went on to cheer at Texas Tech, didn’t violate any NCAA rules by taking money for a very simple reason: the NCAA doesn’t govern cheerleading, which apparently is a booming industry. Not that anyone cares. The NCAA only scrambles its fighter jets when someone buys a golfer a pizza.
Cheerleaders have been making bank while screaming for athletes who couldn’t legally make a dime off their celebrity. Think about that. The Supreme Court did, which is why the genie is out of the bottle.
Because the NCAA finally caved Wednesday, student athletes can profit off their names, likenesses and images instead of the suits getting all the cheese. And it’s not just football players, if that’s what you’re thinking.
The founder of Fans Meet Idols, which offers personalized video messages, told ESPN he’s signed 42 athletes, including Texas A&M safety Demani Richardson as well as an unnamed Baylor athlete. But Steve Kennedy also said two-thirds of his new clients are female, representing sports as diverse as volleyball, swimming and diving, golf and soccer.
Unilever, the parent company of Degree deodorant, announced it’ll spend equal amounts of $5 million on male and female athletes over the next five years.
No question, football will probably be over-represented. I don’t have a problem with that. Football players make most of the money for athletic programs, and they take most of the risk, both short- and long-term. Texas’ DeMarvion Overshown and Josh Thompson reportedly will represent Ren, an apparel company. We’ll learn about the financial status of a lot more football players in the coming weeks. But already it’s apparent that they won’t just come from big schools in big conferences. ESPN reports that five members of the Jackson State football team have signed up with 3 Kings Grooming Products.
Texas officials anticipated this week by launching something last August called LEVERAGE, part of its 4EVERTEXAS program. The initiative aspires to educate student athletes in NIL practices, allowing them to “maximize their brand and platform.”
Get this: Johnny Manziel is out to help, too. The Heisman Trophy winner tweeted a series of practical tips Thursday, advising the beneficiaries of this new day in athletics to set up a business, solicit your fan base directly and order plenty of merchandise, but not so much that you get caught with a warehouse full of Johnny Footballs.
“Learned that lesson the hard way,” he tweeted.
Speaking of which, remember that $33,000 Johnny said he made signing all those autographs at A&M? Remember how he claimed he didn’t make a dime of it before he won the Heisman? Yeah, right. The thing is, if a Heisman contender makes a bundle selling his signature now, the Heisman Trust can’t make a big deal of it anymore. No longer an NCAA violation.
Count Reggie Bush among those who hope this week’s ruling will be retroactive. The Heisman Trust stripped him of his 2005 Heisman after it was revealed he and his family received impermissible benefits. Bush has been reaching out for months, but he said Thursday the NCAA won’t return his calls. A spokesman for the Heisman folks told him “they could not help us.”
If you ask me, the least they could do is give Bush’s Heisman to Vince Young. He deserved it, anyway.
No matter what happens from here on out, it’s a new day for college athletes. The old guard is jealous. JJ Redick, just passing through Dallas, said if this had happened when he was at Duke, he’d have “made a bag,” then blown it on beer and Polo shirts. Then again, who’s JJ kidding? Basketball players have long had their hands out. Football players have been getting money under the table since they wore leather helmets.
Could this week’s developments enable boosters to funnel even more money to players repping their businesses? Sure. Probably means that, once it gets over licking its wounds, the NCAA should limit what these kids can make.
The NCAA’s duties just got a lot more complicated, not that anyone needs to feel sorry for the folks in Indianapolis. Remember Aaron Adair? His father, Steve, was the baseball coach at Trinity Christian before he died of cancer at 57 in 2001. Aaron fought his own battle with cancer. Even wrote a book about it. “You Don’t Know Where I’ve Been.” The NCAA ruled he couldn’t make money off his inspirational message, officially ending his days playing baseball at Oklahoma.
The NCAA is simply getting what it deserves, and so are the kids. They’ll have to figure out how to handle their windfall, like Johnny Football said, but it can’t be that hard. Cheerleaders seem to be doing just fine. They say the bottom line for their coaches is that they can’t miss practice for a gig. Sounds like a plan to me.