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‘The dawn of a new day:’ New Illinois law allows student athletes to be compensated for use of name, image

College athletes around the state said they were “excited” they could finally profit financially from taking part in sports.

Basketball players with the DePaul Blue Demons women’s basketball program and sisters, Aneesah Morrow, left, and Nazlah Morrow, right, pose for a portrait at the Sullivan Athletic Center at 2323 N. Sheffield in Sheffield Neighbors, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
DePaul Blue Demons women’s basketball players, and sisters, Aneesah Morrow (left) and Nazlah Morrow, pose for a portrait at the Sullivan Athletic Center at 2323 N. Sheffield. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Anthony Vazquez, Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Loyola University men’s basketball player Lucas Williamson — like other college athletes across Illinois — said Tuesday he feels “nothing but excitement for the world of opportunities” that will soon be offered to student athletes under legislation signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The Student-Athlete Endorsement Rights Act, allows college and university athletes to be compensated for their name or image and allows them to retain agents. The law goes into effect Thursday.

The legislation allows student athletes to “take control of their destiny when it comes to their own name, image likeness and voice,” Pritzker said at the bill-signing ceremony at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“With this law, Illinois is at the forefront of taking some pressure off of talented kids who are torn between finishing their degree or cashing in on the big leagues,” Pritzker said. “But to be clear, the benefits of this law don’t stop with kids bound for the NFL, or the NBA.

“Any student athlete can partner with businesses in their college towns, as well as brands big and small, to see a financial benefit from the hours they pour into their craft. ... This isn’t just a win for student athletes, it’s a win for the future of our entire state.”

Loyola Chicago guard Lucas Williamson plays against Illinois during the second half of a men’s college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) ORG XMIT: NYOTK
Loyola Chicago guard Lucas Williamson plays against Illinois during the second half of a men’s college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) ORG XMIT: NYOTK
Paul Sancya/AP

Pritzker was joined by state legislators and the athletic directors from U. of I., as well as Northwestern University and DePaul University.

State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, said the bill is about “autonomy” and fairness.

A former defensive lineman on the football team at Illinois, Buckner sponsored the legislation in the House and said the “long overdue” law modernizes the college athletics landscape.

“This is not just a win for the star quarterback or the star point guard. This gives the women’s tennis player an opportunity to be compensated for teaching lessons back in her hometown during summer breaks. This creates an apparatus for the women’s softball player to lend her image to the local pizzeria for fair market value,” Buckner said.

“This is the dawn of a new day, and today we have created the change that our student athletes deserve.”

The law also bars organizations, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, from preventing student athletes from being paid for the use of their name or image.

It also allows higher education institutions to set “reasonable limitations” on the dates and times that a student competitor might participate in endorsement or promotional activities.

Eva Rubin, who plays on U. of I.’s women’s basketball team, said as a student athlete she and others spend many hours in class and on the sport “that you get to watch us play on television.”

The new law will likely allow her to do more for her community.

“I’m actually a Type 1 diabetic and, with my small platform that I’ve been able to kind of build for myself here at the University of Illinois, I’ve had many opportunities to work with diabetes research foundations,” Rubin said. “With the [bill] being passed, I can only imagine the opportunities that I’ll be able to create for myself and build for myself and ways that will help me give back to my community.”

Sisters Aneesah and Nazlah Morrow, both women’s basketball players at DePaul University, said they’re thrilled the legislation would soon go into effect.

“Now to be able to benefit off doing what I’ve been doing this whole time, it makes me very excited,” Nazlah said.

The Morrow sisters’ parents were both athletes at Nebraska. Their mother, Nafeesah Brown, described as “one of the most explosive Huskers ever,” played women’s basketball and their father, Ed Morrow, was on the 1994 National Championship football team.

“In the past, I couldn’t imagine how helpful it would be for athletes, considering that my father was a national champion and my mother was a hall-of-famer at Nebraska,” Aneesah said.

Joe Spivak, a Northwestern University football player, said he’s also excited about the new law but is approaching the newfound opportunity with caution.

“I think definitely when the time is right and I have that plan and the right guidance, I’d be silly not to pursue it,” Spivak said.

Joe Spivak, a defensive tackle for Northwestern University’s football team.
Joe Spivak, a defensive tackle for Northwestern University’s football team.
Northwestern Athletics

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 9-0 opinion that the NCAA can’t enforce rules limiting education-related benefits — such as computers and paid internships — that colleges offer to student athletes but didn’t make a ruling on whether students can be paid salaries.

Buckner said that decision is a sign that things are changing for college athletes.

“We don’t know what everything will look like in the coming months and years, but I think what this signals is that we’re poised and ready to be at the vanguard and be at the front of the charge” for making things more equitable for college athletes, the South Side Democrat said.