James Call, Tallahassee Democrat
Published 2:47 p.m. ET Oct. 24, 2019 | Updated 2:52 p.m. ET Oct. 24, 2019
Rep. McGhee’s bill to allow college athletes to profit from their fame gets Gov DeSantis’ endorsement. It prohibits enforcement of NCAA ban
James Call, Democrat Capitol Reporter
The NCAA may view the quintet of former football players and leaders from the Florida House and Senate as Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but they convinced Gov. Ron DeSantis to endorse what they called a fight for fairness for college athletes.
DeSantis flanked by Florida State football legends Corey Simon and Nick Maddox, along with Sen. Deborah Mayfield, R-Rockledge, and representatives Kionne McGhee, D-Miami-Dade, and Chip LaMarca, Lighthouse Point, said he will use the authority of his office to pass legislation in 2020 to allow Florida’s more than 11,000 collegiate athletes to make money from their name, image and likeness.
“There are going to be issues that need addressing, but I am confident that those issues can be addressed in a way to maintain college athletics as a really special thing but also provide the ability for our student athletes to benefit just like anyone else,” said DeSantis.
DeSantis told a gaggle of reporters he had an epiphany at the Florida-Auburn football game earlier this month when he realized that a member of the marching band could make money with music on YouTube but that the players on the field did not have the same option to profit from their skills and talents.
“If you were on scholarship for chemistry and somehow figured out a way to monetize that, no one would say anything,” said DeSantis. “Other people make a lot of money using their name, image and likeness but they under current NCAA rules are not permitted to do that.”
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Florida HB 251 is modeled after a California law that goes into effect in 2023 and is fiercely opposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The California measure was quickly followed by the introduction of bills in New York, Florida and South Carolina.
“When I look to see good policy ideas, California usually is not the first place I look, but I think California is on the right track,” said DeSantis.
Simon, a former NFL Pro Bowler and member of the Florida State national championship team in 1999, said it is an issue of fairness – the players have earned the right to profit from their fame.
“If I couldn’t play football, Florida State is not knocking at my door,” said Simon. “The nine shoulder surgeries and the two knee surgeries that I had while I was here, that wasn’t Florida State. Florida State wasn’t laying on the table, it was me.”
The issue is rooted in a 2009 legal challenge filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. He noticed he was featured in a video game in which the NCAA received money for the use of Bannon’s likeness and he wanted a share.
O’Bannon won the case but then lost on appeal. Advocates for the students have been at work since to change regulations. This month, Tallahassee Congressman Al Lawson sent a letter that formally asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to create a Select Committee on Student Athletes.
Florida HB 251 would forbid schools from enforcing an NCAA ban that disqualifies a student if they had received compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness.
Maddox, a Leon County commissioner and former teammate of Simon’s, said the ban is unrealistic. Both he and Simon argued it is virtually impossible for a college athlete to work a part-time job and commit to their studies and team practice.
“These athletes make these universities millions upon millions of dollars and most of the time they are selling their rings and jerseys at the end of the season in order to be able to feed themselves,” said Maddox. “That is not right.”
McGhee thanked DeSantis for taking up the cause. McGhee said he, Mayfield, and LaMarca were tired of the hypocrisy in the classroom where students are taught about capitalism, “taught about the free market but are being told, on the other hand, they cannot participate because they have a gift.”
LaMarca added the NCAA prohibition is counterproductive. He noted when the NCAA ordered the University of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye to shut down his YouTube channel, he quit the team and now plays for the CFL.
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And he asked, given that Florida State soccer player Deyna Castellano has 1.2 million Instagram followers, how is it fair that she is unable to profit from such fame.
McGhee’s bill was assigned to four committee stops and Mayfield’s has yet to receive a committee assignment. Usually those are signals from legislative leaders that they have limited interest in the issue.
But Mayfield and McGhee now have a heavy hitter on their side with DeSantis’s, who played baseball at Yale, endorsement of their effort.
The Florida legislature’s 2020 session begins Jan. 14.
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