Democratic Presidential Hopeful Cory Booker Calls Out NCAA ‘Exploitative Practices,’ Outlines Plan for Reform

As the Democratic presidential primaries near, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is weighing in on a hot topic: college sports.

The presidential candidate, who himself played Division I football at Stanford, called out the NCAA for what he referred to as “exploitation of college athletes” and outlined hopes for reform on his campaign site.

“[I]njustices in professional and college sports have been allowed to continue largely unregulated,” Booker’s statement reads. “These unjust practices deny athletes the opportunity to benefit from their hard work and they don’t reflect our American values.”

Under NCAA regulations, players are not permitted to receive payment, either from their schools or through endorsement deals. Booker hopes to undo those restrictions and “allow college athletes to be compensated for their ‘name, image, and likeness’ rights,” citing the Fair Pay to Play Act, which passed in California last month. He also wants athletes to be able to employ agents or business managers, which is prohibited by the NCAA.

The Fair Pay to Play Act — which is at odds with NCAA rules — will allow students at both public and private universities in California to parlay their fame into endorsement deals, beginning in 2023. Other states, including South Carolina and New York, have proposed similar legislation.

At present, colleges ink kit deals with athleticwear brands to provide uniforms and footwear for their athletes. This would still be allowed under the California law and other proposed legislation, but students would be able to sign deals of their own with apparel and athleticwear brands for off-duty items.

“We’re watching athletic brands take a bigger land grab to apply not just performance-oriented positioning but fashion-oriented as well,” Marc Beckman, CEO of business development agency DMA United, told FN last month. “The way Kawhi Leonard is locked into certain performance obligations with New Balance…those types of contractual terms will dictate what these student athletes are wearing both on and off the court.”

If elected, Booker wants to create across-the-board health and wellness standards, as well as to implement measures to boost graduation rates and improving gender equity.

The senator also wants to improve pay and gender equity in professional sports. If he becomes president, he would like to increase salaries for minor league baseball players and NFL cheerleaders and NBA dancers, as well as for the U.S. Women’s National Team soccer players.

“As president, Cory will fight for fair pay and treatment for all professional female athletes and will sign into law the Athletics Fair Pay Act, which would amend the 40-plus-year-old Amateur Sports Act to require that the national governing bodies, including the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), treat and compensate female athletes fairly and equally,” a statement on his site reads.

All 28 members of the World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team banded together to file a lawsuit against the USSF in March, alleging gender discrimination and unequal wages. A trial is to be held in May.

Booker’s stance on NCAA and professional sports could have legislative implications should he win the Democratic primaries and defeat President Donald Trump in the 2020 general election. Various polls suggest Booker is polling at between 1% and 2% nationally, putting him roughly seventh or eighth place in the primary field.

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