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Florida A&M v Jackson State

Quarterback Shedeur Sanders of the Jackson State Tigers looks for a pass against the Florida A&M Rattlers during the Orange Blossom Classic Game at Hard Rock Stadium on September 4, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Florida. | Source: Don Juan Moore / Getty

The implementation of name, image and likeness (NIL) has transformed the world of college sports.

The construct of athletes across the country getting compensated for NIL rights is still in its infancy stages but is creating a major impact on college athletes.

Those starring at HBCUs are no exception to that apparent rule.

One of the highest ranked recruits ever to attend an HBCU, Jackson State’s Travis Hunter, just inked a deal with famous HBCU football alum Michael Strahan to represent his business entities. That follows Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders signing deals with Gatorade, Beats, and Tom Brady’s apparel company; Norfolk State University’s track and football standout Rayquan Smith has more than 70 NIL deals to date; and multiple brands have provided deals to the entire rosters of certain HBCU teams.

“As an HBCU alum, it’s important to me to continue to support the movement to raise awareness for these institutions and individuals that are often overlooked. As my lifestyle brand has continued to grow, I wanted to create the opportunity for an HBCU athlete to serve as our first brand ambassador,” Strahan told Sports Illustrated. “I am overjoyed to officially welcome a true game-changer, Travis Hunter, to my team to help us build our new skin and shave line while also expanding my clothing lines that are available at amazing partners like Men’s Wearhouse. I admire Travis’ confidence, poise, and talent. I cannot wait to see what he accomplishes on and off the field.”

The buzz in the HBCU community is that Hunter is already one of the most talented players in Black College football, and he’s only a freshman. Hunter has been hobbled a bit by some injuries to start his career, but chances are he’ll begin to see an influx of new deals when he is fully healed and continue making highlight plays for the Tigers.

“I’ve always admired Michael Strahan for his confidence, style, and ability to innovate in so many different areas of his life and in business. Not only was he a Hall of Fame player, but he has built a Hall of Fame second act after retiring from football,” Hunter stated told SI. His lifestyle brand is something special, and I am honored to work with and learn from him as I develop my own career.”

HBCU sports is in such a critical time right now. And with the interest level as high as it’s ever been, an increasing number of Black College players could begin attracting NIL deals like Hunter’s. The revenue received from these brands could go a long way in changing these players’ lives forever. NIL particularly opens the door to help put Black athletes in favorable financial positions, potentially helping to chip away at the racial wealth gap that is fueled in part by student debt.

HBCU athletes were at the top of adidas’ priority list when the sports apparel giant announced its ambassador program open to Division I athletes at schools sponsored by the company. Howard University’s men’s basketball program was offered NIL deals to all of its players. Grambling State University similarly obtained NIL deals for every one of its athletes.

These types of deals were unheard of just a few years ago.

“If Corporate America is perceptive enough … they will realize that African Americans spend money, too,” former Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner Dennis Thomas told Front Office Sports in October. “And they’ll get a good return on investment.”

NIL deals can be beneficial for players and schools alike.

If a player can make money off their image easier than before, this could have a positive impact on HBCUs and the talent that they will be able to recruit to their campuses.

“NIL is pulling the curtain back,” North Carolina Central Head Basketball Coach LeVelle Moton said to SI in June. “A lot of those coaches’ biggest fears are coming to fruition because for so long they’ve convinced the world that they’re the James Naismith Jr. of basketball. The reality is, name the top two or three coaches in college football and basketball and they all benefited mostly from players that look like me. They know that. It just takes one guy to step out there and usher in the new wave, and then another will follow and then another.”


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