Redefining the Role of Money for College Athletes: A Journey of Values and Empowerment

Written by: Maya Keenan-Gallagher

It was the fall of 2021 when the Name, Image and Likeness program rolled out in the NCAA. I was 21 years old and a women’s lacrosse player pursuing a degree in finance. Along with my fellow student-athletes, I became increasingly excited that there was even the opportunity for me to have just a few extra bucks in the bank. As I transitioned out of being a student-athlete, I came to the stark realization of the missed opportunity that the NCAA had to educate and empower young adults on fundamental mindset shifts that could be provided in order to even slightly ease the financial literacy crisis in our country today.

In the midst of the recent developments surrounding Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals in college sports, there’s been a pervasive focus on the financial opportunities available to student-athletes. While the newfound ability to monetize their talents is undoubtedly significant, it’s essential to reframe the conversation around money and empower athletes to prioritize their values and long-term aspirations. Rather than viewing money as an end in itself, college athletes should be encouraged to define their values as individuals, set meaningful goals, and leverage financial resources as a means to live out their true freedoms.

At its core, the concept of NIL deals represents a paradigm shift in collegiate athletics, granting student-athletes unprecedented autonomy and agency over their personal brands. Yet, amidst the allure of lucrative sponsorship deals and endorsement contracts, it’s easy for athletes to lose sight of the bigger picture – namely, their values, aspirations, and identity beyond the realm of sports. What principles guide their actions? What causes are they passionate about? By establishing a solid foundation of values, athletes can navigate the complexities of NIL opportunities with integrity and purpose.

Moreover, athletes should be encouraged to articulate their long-term goals and aspirations, both within, and beyond, their athletic careers. Do they aspire to make a difference in their communities? Pursue higher education? Build a business empire? By setting clear goals aligned with their values, athletes can harness the power of money as a tool for personal and professional growth.

In essence, money should be viewed as an avenue to facilitate the realization of one’s aspirations and values, rather than an end goal in itself. When approached with intentionality and mindfulness, financial resources can empower athletes to be the architects of their own destinies, enabling them to lead lives of purpose, fulfillment, and impact.

Furthermore, colleges and universities have a responsibility to support athletes in this journey of self-discovery and empowerment. By providing resources and guidance on financial literacy, goal setting, and values clarification, institutions can equip athletes with the tools they need to make informed decisions and navigate the complexities of NIL opportunities.

In conclusion, the emergence of NIL deals presents a unique opportunity to reframe the conversation around money in college athletics and improve the outcomes for the 70% of professional athletes who fall into financial hardship after they retire. By embracing this holistic approach, athletes can harness the power of money to realize their fullest potential as individuals and make a positive impact on the world around them.


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