Drew Eckl and Farnham sports law attorney, Alexander Essex, was interviewed by the Daily Report to discuss the anticipated growth of sports law practices in Georgia due to the state’s new high school NIL (name, image, likeness) rules. He highlights the potential confusion these rules may pose for high school athletes and their families, noting that they may seek legal guidance to navigate the complex landscape of NIL agreements.
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Georgia Sports Lawyers Anticipate Boost in Practices From New NIL Rules
What You Need to Know
- Some Georgia sports lawyers foresee a boost in their practices because of the state’s new high school NIL rules and its effects.
- Following the GHSA’s Oct. 2 vote, Georgia became the newest of 30 states and the District of Columbia to allow high school NIL.
Some Georgia sports lawyers foresee a boost in their practices from Georgia athletes and their families seeking legal advice as they maneuver through the state’s new high school NIL rules.
The executive committee for the state’s chief high school athletics governing body, the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), voted earlier this month 66-9 to allow athletes from its member schools to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL).
The GHSA also said in published guidelines about complying with the ruling that athletes and their families “should” get professional legal guidance before entering a NIL deal to find out how it could affect everything from its tax implications to collegiate financial aid.
Alex Essex, an associate in Drew Eckl & Farnham’s sports law practice, said he foresaw sports practices in Georgia law firms growing because of the demand for guidance about the many implications of the ruling.
“I think it will increase the [the firm’s sports law] practice at least from the standpoint of, this rule is going to be very confusing for high school kids and their families,” Essex said. “I think you’re going to see an influx of these families saying, ‘This is great—are we actually allowed to do it?’”
Following the GHSA’s Oct. 2 vote, Georgia became the newest of 30 states and the District of Columbia to allow high school NIL agreements, including neighboring Tennessee and North Carolina. However, several Southeastern states still do not allow them, including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina.
The GHSA ruling contains a number of prohibitions on high school athletes’ use of NIL. Schools or school representatives may not use NIL deals to entice an athlete to enroll, nor can the school or anyone acting as the school’s agent provide compensation. A school facility also may not be used for the purpose of NIL activities.
It prohibits NIL deals from being linked to a specific achievement or performance, such as winning an MVP award, and bars athletes from using their schools’ name, logos or uniforms or other intellectual property.
Athletes also cannot endorse something that is prohibited by the athlete’s local school district, such as tobacco or alcoholic beverage products or controlled substances, and they must notify the school within seven days of signing a deal, according to guidelines issued by the GHSA.
Essex said sports practices “will see the calls from parents and families with an opportunity for this deal, and the attorneys are going to have to help guide these families through.”
He said sports lawyers will need to initially make sure athletes are compliant with the GHSA prohibitions on wearing school logos or uniforms. “It’s not the schools that can be marketed; it’s the players,” Essex said.
He noted school district leaders could veto an athlete’s NIL deal if it conflicts with the district’s policy on disallowed products.
“I would hope and I would recommend that they reach out to an attorney who practices in this [sports] area so that they can deal with the district’s compliance office. I’m not even sure that the school districts even have the compliance set up for this,” Essex added.
Donald Woodard, a partner with Carter & Woodard, said in an interview that he agreed with GHSA leaders that families who believe their athlete can benefit from NIL should consult a legal professional about such issues as eligibility for student aid.
Lawyers likely will receive a number of inquiries, but Woodard said he was unsure of the financial impact on sports practices because only a “small percentage” of Georgia high school athletes will have the opportunity to profit off their NIL.
Woodard said he’s already received inquiries about parts of the GHSA guidelines that were unclear, such as its effective date—it became effective upon the Oct. 2 vote, he said.
“The law was [passed Oct. 2] and we were negotiating deals the same week,” Woodard said.
Woodard represents Carrollton High School phenom Julian “Ju Ju” Lewis. At age 15, the quarterback recently became the youngest athlete to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine after his recent commitment to play collegiately at the University of Southern California.
Among Lewis’ achievements as a ninth-grader was leading Carrollton to the state championship game, where he passed for a record 531 yards and five touchdowns. Some observers see Lewis as having a national brand because of the exposure he’s received.
Woodard also is representing Hughes High School quarterback Air Noland, who is committed to Ohio State University.
“With a name like Air Noland, I think there are some opportunities,” he said.
Ron Gaither, an Atlanta-based partner with Baker & Hostetler, said athletes and families will seek guidance about such issues as retaining their eligibility to play at the collegiate level. However, Gaither was unsure how much the approval of NIL for Georgia high school athletes will affect sports practices like his—which represents clients who seek to hire athletes for their NIL rather than the athletes themselves.
“It will probably move the needle a little bit,” Gaither said. “There are always questions as relates to making sure that we don’t violate the student’s eligibility. You don’t want to do anything go against the … rule about contracting with a high school student.”
Gaither said a client earlier this year asked about the use of NIL in advertising a product geared toward high school athletes. He said he advised against it at the time because NIL was approved in fewer states than they are now, but he recently contacted the client again to gauge their continued interest following the GHSA ruling.
Written by Thomas Spigolon on October 17, 2023 at 4:28pm for the Daily Report
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Alexander Essex is a civil litigator practicing in the areas of general liability, premises liability, commercial law, and commercial trucking. He also practices sports and entertainment law, and has become a leader in navigating name, image, and likeness laws affecting college athletes across the country.