Frederick Lewis, a student at the University of Houston, has more than 76,000 followers on TikTok for his videos on mental health, racial disparities, historical facts and spirituality.
However, because he runs Division 1 Track and Field, he has declined offers from brands that have reached out to him. Lewis also hasn’t been able to benefit from the TikTok Creator Fund, the social media company’s program to monetize content from popular creators.
That’s all thanks to rules that have traditionally banned college athletes from making money off of their name, image and likeness — or, NIL.
“When we go back up to campus each year, we have to re-sign these contracts,” Lewis said. “A social media contract — one for the school and then one for the NCAA rules.”
A Texas law that went into effect on Thursday has changed that: College athletes in the state can now make money off of their personal brand for the first time.
A screenshot of one of Frederick Lewis’ TikTok video. The depicted video was about cultural appropriation in high fashion.
“It was definitely a sigh of relief,” Lewis said. “Now that we get to actually do this, I don’t have to limit myself anymore.”
The law, along with similar ones passed by several states, has pressured the National Collegiate Athletics Association to recently suspend its rules that forbid athletes from receiving compensation for things like brand sponsorships, social media promotions and personal appearances.
College athletes nationwide can also now benefit from NIL until Congress adopts federal legislation to address states without laws.
The NCAA has been reluctant to make these changes because of the organization’s focus on amateurism.
“Amateurism has been a foundational point of college athletics since its inception back in the early 1900s,” said Rick Evrard, a college athletics lawyer who specializes in NCAA compliance.
The NCAA has said that NIL compensation would blur the lines between college and professional sports.
The new ability for student athletes to earn money now raises the question of how college sports might change.
“It’s the Wild West with regard to the way student athletes are going to be treated now,” Evrard said. “It’s a new era where we’re going to have to see exactly how and when limitations, if any, are going to be imposed on those student athletes.”
Unlike other states, Texas has already formed rules around NIL compensation. Athletes are banned from endorsing alcohol, tobacco, gambling and sex-related brands. It also requires student athletes to take a financial literacy and life skills workshop.
Some scholars are already responding to these changes. Earlier this week, The University of Houston announced LIFTOFF, a bundle of resources the school is offering athletes to help navigate NIL rules and build their brands. These tools have already been showcased in promotional material for UH athletics.
As the law goes into effect, Frederick Lewis is thinking about his future, now that he’s a rising senior.
“I’m getting older and graduation is getting closer and closer,” Lewis said. “After I’m out of college, I should be able to have something of my own name to stand on. Anything I can do to set myself up after college, after NCAA athletics, I would definitely take the opportunity to do that.”