SPOTLIGHT: LHSAA addresses NIL, stresses education on issue

UNCHARTED TERRITORY: High school student-athletes, their parents, and school personnel will soon receive valuable information from the LHSAA to help them better understand Name, Image and Likeness issues impacting prep sports.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

Louisiana High School Athletic Association executive director Eddie Bonine was in his office recently hosting a meeting on Name, Image and Likeness when he received text messages from three school superintendents.

“Hey, I’m glad you are addressing NIL, and here’s why,” Bonine said of the texts’ general theme. “There’s a picture up on Interstate 20 of a female athlete that’s a pretty good basketball player, pictured with an attorney — a statewide attorney…Was there money exchanged?”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Bonine said then, and said again Monday, “nor are we going to have to worry about that.”

The billboard cited to Bonine — there is also one on Sligo Road in south Bossier City — features Parkway High School’s Mikaylah Williams, the state’s girls basketball Class 5A Most Valuable Player, a Team USA gold medalist last summer in junior competition, and one of the country’s top recruits in the Class of 2023.

Williams was not paid for her appearance on the billboard, a congratulatory message from Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys. Her picture was the only one on the billboard, which also featured the law firm’s brand.

Had Williams or any other prep athlete statewide received money for the use of their NIL, it would not have been against LHSAA rules, said Bonine in a Zoom call with statewide media Monday morning.

“Unless that particular billboard caused her to move from one school to another. That’s where undue influence comes in,” he said in a hypothetical statement setting a tone for future potential questions involving any student-athlete.

Last Thursday, the LHSAA approved a “positioning statement” regarding NIL. It may have caused more confusion than clarity, despite an effort to interpret the organization’s bylaws, “which do not prohibit student-athletes from engaging in certain commercial activities in their individual capacities.”

“When it really hit home is when I had the lead epidemiologist in the state of Louisiana reach out to me to ensure that if they paid students — high school students — to promote vaccination during the (COVID-19) vaccination march, were they violating any of our rules?” Bonine said. “They were not.”

In an effort to “educate, not regulate,” Bonine said, the LHSAA has partnered with Eccker Sports Group. Next month, Eccker will make available on its website various NIL courses for administrators, coaches, parents, and athletes.

“It’s more about educating what’s going to be allowable and what’s not allowable,” said Loyola College Prep principal John LeBlanc, a member of the LHSAA Executive Committee. “I just think when that Pandora’s box was opened for college athletes, there was no specification on the law passed in Louisiana that said it was for college athletes only. It wasn’t specific to college athletes, or exclusive of high school athletes.”

Keith Burton is the Caddo Parish School Board’s Chief Academic Officer. He is a charter member of the Louisiana High School Officials’ Association and has been officiating football and basketball games for a combined 50-plus years.

“I hate the fact we are truly adding (NIL) on top of high school sports,” Burton said. “High school sports have always been that true, clean amateur spot of high competition. We are now bringing down what we are seeing at the NCAA, where instead of the team approach to athletics, we’re now elevating an athlete’s name, image, or their likeness, and we’re actually going to pay them as a teenager. Some of them are not old enough to drive, not old enough to drink, not old enough to vote, but they’re old enough now to be compensated. I think they are too young.”

Jason Rowland is the Director of Athletics for Bossier Parish. He’s been involved in high school sports for 29 years as a coach and administrator. But for him, NIL — especially on the high school level — is a whole new world.

“None of us ever knew the social media platforms — YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, those platforms —were going to become an avenue of financial gain for student-athletes,” he said. “I would have never thought of that.”

Parkway star Williams at center of LHSAA NIL issue