Parkway star Williams at center of LHSAA NIL issue

NOT ALL ABOARD: The likenesses of LHSAA players on business-sponsored billboards is a sign of the NIL times — though not all agree a good one.

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

Got Gordon?

Parkway’s star basketball player Mikaylah Williams appears to be on board – at least, she’s shown on a billboard. The marketing team of Baton Rouge-based attorney Gordon McKernan put Williams on a billboard on Sligo Road in Bossier City.

It reads, “Congratulations MK on a great season!,” and features a posed photo of both the Lady Panthers star and the McKernan firm’s brand. It has been up for a couple of weeks.

Sources with the LHSAA said that McKernan’s staff told the organization that they did not pay Williams to be on the billboard, but LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine told The Baton Rouge Advocate that he did receive calls about it. The LHSAA also said it received calls asking if healthcare organizations could pay LHSAA student-athletes for doing public service announcements on vaccinations. Bonine told the medical professionals yes, it is permissible.

That led toward the LHSAA releasing a position statement Thursday, which allows for LHSAA student athletes to profit off of their name, image, or likeness (NIL).

Here is the LHSAA’s position statement on NIL:

“LHSAA bylaws do not prohibit student athletes from engaging in certain commercial activities in their individual capacities. These activities, generally referred to as Name, Image and likeness (NIL), will not jeopardize a student athlete’s amateur status if the student athlete complies with LHSAA Bylaw 1.25 on “Maintaining Amateur Status” as well as all LHSAA Bylaws, policies, and regulations. Compliance with LHSAA Bylaws regarding NIL does not ensure maintenance of eligibility under the eligibility standards of other governing athletic organizations (e.g. NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA, national sport governing bodies, etc.). Student athletes desiring information on the amateur rules of other governing organizations should consult with those organizations.”

“As an education-based association, I think it is imperative that everyone associated with high school athletics in Louisiana is properly educated and informed on Name, Image, and Likeness,” said Bonine.

NIL expert Randy Eccker, the CEO and Founder of Eccker Sports, presented to the LHSAA’s executive committee on Wednesday ahead of the LHSAA’s Thursday press release. The presentation to the committee outlined an educational program, which includes modules for LHSAA athletic directors and principals for educational purposes.

“Our goal is to guide, inform and protect high school students and their families to help them thrive on their NIL journey,” Eccker said. “By taking a proactive, impartial, and non-exploitive approach, we believe coaches, administrators, student-athletes, and their parents will be in a much better position to avoid trouble and succeed in this rapidly changing arena. We are proud to partner with the LHSAA and are eager to bring these important resources to the entire state of Louisiana.”

Across the nation, there have been inconsistencies concerning how state athletic associations have addressed NIL. According to the LHSAA press release, eight states have laws permitting athletes to profit off their NIL, while 16 states are moving toward adoption of new laws, and 26 states have prohibited student-athletes from profiting from NIL.

Loyola College Prep principal Johnny LeBlanc, who serves on the LHSAA’s Executive Committee, sees it as a way for student-athletes to use their social media following for their personal benefit, but he is concerned that it could turn high school athletics into a case of the “haves versus the have nots.”

At least one local athletic director and coach was flatly disappointed.

“I think it’s a terrible move by the LHSAA,” Northwood head football coach and athletic director Austin Brown said. “There was a line, it was somewhat a little blurred. I think that line is gone. I think we have dived into the water now, and there is no coming back. If this goes all the way through, you cannot say it’s for the love of the game anymore – at any level. It’s very disheartening for the future of high school athletics.”

Brown said the LHSAA announcement came out of nowhere and has caught him and his peers in the coaching profession off guard.

“Usually in the coaching ranks, you hear whispers,” Brown said. “You hear this or that, or people are trying to round up votes or support, and I didn’t hear a whisper. This came out of nowhere and we have dived in the water. We didn’t dip our toe in the water. Now, we’ve got to try to survive and not drown in the pool we’re in right now.”

Photo by TONY TAGLAVORE