As the University of Michigan basketball team got ready to play Texas Southern in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, Isaiah Livers could be seen in a black shirt, cheering on his teammates. The shirt had a hashtag in white lettering. It read #NotNCAAProperty.
Despite suffering a stress fracture that ended his season, he made an effort to not only make it to the tournament, but have his voice be heard. It is one of the most selfless acts of activism that I have been fortunate enough to see in a while.
The hashtag is a part of a new movement of NCAA athletes calling attention to the NCAA’s policies regarding name, image, and likeness (NIL). Since its inception, the NCAA has controlled its players’ names, images, and likenesses. Players under NCAA jurisdiction are prohibited from using their NIL rights to make money off the court. The movement, including calling for a change to NIL rules by July 1st, is also calling for a meeting with NCAA President Mark Emmert as well as with state & federal officials.
The demands that Isaiah and other players are making are economic rights that any other college student has. Many college students have YouTube channels, TikTok accounts, and other businesses where they can profit from their names, images, and likenesses. NCAA players remain the only ones without this right, despite the fact that they put their health and safety on the line, including in the middle of a global pandemic.
This problem is also made worse by the fact that players are not compensated in any way for their labor in a billion-dollar industry. It is one thing to tell student-athletes that they are working an unpaid job, it is another to tell them they also cannot make money or profit outside of their unpaid job.
There have been many ways of trying to frame this dilemma. Many lawsuits, movements, and new laws have attempted to change the status quo. However, the NCAA has intentionally slowed change, despite some genuine progress being made.
This makes the framing of athletes as property and the courage to do this on the NCAA’s biggest stage remarkable and urgent. In the middle of a global pandemic and multiple attempts at unionization the NCAA has still done everything to avoid allowing their players to be compensated. If the NCAA will not budge on the issue during one of the most dangerous pandemics in recent history, will they ever if no one speaks up? Isaiah is not going to wait to find out.
If the NCAA will not budge on the issue during one of the most dangerous pandemics in recent history, will they ever if no one speaks up? Isaiah is not going to wait to find out.
When asked by the New York Times about this movement, Livers said that he was “doing this for future athletes” and future generations who come into the NCAA. This was perhaps the most selfless part. Livers has recently suffered a stress fracture, and announced he would be sitting out for the tournament. His NCAA playing career is over, and he has very little to gain from this movement now. He is a senior with NBA aspirations, and could simply sit on the sidelines and wait for his eventual pro payday. Instead, he put himself out there and is getting his message out.
Many people often talk about athletes having courage and using their platform. Livers has done so in one of the most courageous and selfless ways. Despite having nothing to gain from this as his NCAA career winds down, he is fighting for the next generation of NCAA superstar athletes. When many would have just waited for their paycheck, Livers took a stand. For that, he deserves our utmost respect and applause.