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College Football Player Discusses The New Frontier Of NIL Endorsements


So far, this year has brought Antwan Owens a degree from Georgia Tech, then a transfer to Jackson State University for his final season of college football, and then several offers for endorsement deals. He's not sure why the brands asked him, but he has some guesses.

ANTWAN OWENS: I haven't had any, you know, off-the-field issues. I guess, you know, I look like a very, like, clean-cut dude that could pull off a luxury grooming deal.

CORNISH: When he signed a deal to represent 3 Kings Grooming, he became one of the first college athletes to benefit from a new policy. As of July 1, the NCAA now allows a student-athlete to earn money from their name, image or likeness. For Antwan Owens, that means making Instagram posts and stories about premium hair care products.

OWENS: Which, again, I don't have any problem with because, you know, I love the brand, and I love the product itself.

CORNISH: Which, for an undisclosed sum, he's happy to do.

OWENS: If you could ask anybody to follow me and include my @ name in there or whatever, that would be very helpful for me.

CORNISH: It's @theantwanowens, by the way. He also got advice from his new head coach at Jackson State, an NFL star with plenty of endorsements in his own time, Deion Sanders.

OWENS: Like, make sure I read my contracts. If I don't agree with the product or if - you know what I'm saying? If it's something to where, you know, I feel like I'm being compromised in any position at all, then it's probably not a good deal to take. So that's been the majority of it.

CORNISH: You mentioned your brand and your image. When you're thinking about yourself like that, do you still view yourself as an amateur athlete?

OWENS: Oh, of course. You know what I mean? At the end of the day, you are a human, and we all are some type of conscious about how the world views us. Everyone's situation is vastly different. So to call us not amateurs in that aspect, you know, would kind of be a letdown only because a lot of these guys, you know, we're still living the everyday life of a college football player, you know, waking up - you know what I mean? - having to call home for $20 to get a pizza that night. You know, it's the same struggle. It's just a little bit better now only because of the new law. But for the majority part, you know, it's the same struggle for a lot of players out there.

CORNISH: As you said, college sports still far from pay-for-play, where a student would literally be paid by a school to come and play at a university.

OWENS: Right.

CORNISH: If the current movement is to get student-athletes compensated, to you, what needs to happen next? Like, does this name, image and likeness policy go far enough?

OWENS: Me, myself, I feel like there's definitely still some clarifications that need to be made, definitely some laws that need to be refined and made clear to some athletes or to some institutions - academic institutions, that is - just so that, I feel like, everyone can profit equally.

CORNISH: So from the outside, it feels like this is a game changer, so to speak. But as students, and from the inside, you're saying it also feels like a very big shift.

OWENS: Student-athletes are more financially free now. You know what I mean? So if you're one of the top guys on the field - you know what I mean? - of course, you're going to get a lot of brand endorsements, which is going to be life-changing for you. That's going to be gigantic. But, also, like I was saying earlier, for those teams that have sponsored the whole team, that have, you know, sponsored the whole specific position groups, I feel like those teams are going to benefit drastically more only because not only the top guys are getting, you know, the recognition and love, you know? I feel like it's a bigger driving force now for everyone.

CORNISH: Antwan Owens, thank you so much for speaking with us.

OWENS: Thank you, guys, for having me on today. I really appreciate it.

CORNISH: That's Antwan Owens, defensive lineman at Jackson State.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'IMPERATRICE SONG, "LA-HAUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.