By Nicky Wolcott, Capital News Service
Cheryl Weaver ran into a problem last year when exploring Name, Image and Likeness opportunities for her daughter, high school volleyball player Alexis Ewing.
At the time, Ewing wasn’t able to profit from endorsement deals, one way that some high school athletes are leveraging their celebrity to earn money.
That changed in December 2022 when the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association changed its rules to allow high school athletes to profit from NIL. Ewing attends Bullis School in Potomac, a member of the private Independent School League. The ISL follows guidance from state athletic organizations regarding NIL deals, commissioner Stephanie Koroma told Capital News Service.
The daughter of NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing and Weaver, who is Alexis’ volleyball coach at Bullis, became one the first high school athletes in Maryland to sign an NIL deal in April. She is a spokesperson for College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving based in Edgewater, Maryland.
“It’s helped grow my brand and get to know other people in the sports world,” Ewing said of the deal.
A slight majority of adults support high school athletes earning money via NIL deals, but they rarely see them endorse products and services, according to a recent poll conducted by the The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism in collaboration with the university’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement and The Washington Post.
Among 1,584 adults polled, 54% support high school athletes earning money from endorsement deals for products and services. Support dips to 40% of respondents when asked whether youth athletes should be able to profit from NIL deals before high school. Only 15% have ever seen a high school athlete endorse a product or service on TV or social media, according to the poll.
Bill Carter, founder of Student-Athlete Insights, a consulting company that advises schools and athletic associations, said a limited number of high school athletes are pursuing NIL deals now. That could change, he said, as athletes, parents and school administrators become more familiar with NIL and more state athletic associations permit such deals in high school.
“If this was a baseball game…we’re in the first inning in terms of high school NIL. We’re barely in the third inning in terms of it at the college level,” said Carter, who also teaches a course on NIL at the University of Vermont. “It’s just so new that I just don’t think there’s a lot of activity in most states.”
Maryland is one of 30 states including Virginia, Pennsylvania and California where high school athletes can profit from NIL deals without jeopardizing their eligibility. Washington, D.C., also allows high school athletes to sign endorsement deals.
Many high school athletes with NIL deals have attracted sponsors with their standout play. Some deals can also be partly credited to family ties.
Kiyomi McMiller became the first high school athlete to sign an NIL deal with Jordan Brand in February. The point guard, who is from Silver Spring, was named as the No. 6 prospect in ESPN’s 2024 player rankings. She currently plays for Life Center Academy in New Jersey and.has not committed to a college.
Ewing’s NIL deal with College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving came as a result of Weaver reaching out to the co-founder of the company who was her high school classmate. Ewing believes the experience could help her secure more deals in the future, potentially at the college level. Ewing committed to Penn State in September.
“NIL is such a great platform for athletes to showcase who they are as people not on the field or on the court,” Weaver said. “I think it’s really important that you align yourself with a company that you really believe in and you have some familiarity with and they’re doing great things for the community.”
Ewing and McMiller’s endorsements are their only deals. McMiller said she’s in negotiations for three additional NIL agreements. Neither Ewing or McMiller would disclose their compensation from the companies.
“Being with a brand has taught me how to be a professional a little bit, because I’m being around different people that work with NBA players and work with different brands and understand the business part of basketball,” McMiller said. “I’m learning a lot, and I’m learning it early.”
Ewing and McMiller’s deals are with companies that are accustomed to working with college athletes. College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving has agreements with multiple college teams including Howard men’s basketball. Jordan Brand’s first NIL athlete was UCLA guard Kiki Rice. Carter said it’s riskier for regional businesses to invest in local high school athletes because they commonly leave their current market to attend college.
Archbishop Spalding football coach Kyle Schmitt, who helped lead the Cavaliers to an MIAA A conference championship last year, believes that with guidelines and guidance, all high school athletes should be allowed to profit from their image.
“How you manage it as a school and a family and a coach is obviously going to be scrutinized and it’s going to be really important,” Schmitt said. “But if these kids have an opportunity, I don’t want to take anything away from our kids. We want to promote the heck out of our athletes, they’re what makes high school sports great.”
Weaver and McMiller are examples of high school athletes who received considerable advice before signing their NIL deals. In her negotiations with Jordan Brand, McMiller was represented by Divine Sports & Entertainment co-founders Ryan Williams-Jenkins and Michael De Sane, according to On3. The agency represents eight NFL players and four college athletes.
Weaver said that she sought legal advice before allowing her daughter to enter into her deal with College Hunks.
“You want to make sure you’re not signing anything that’s basically for your life. You may be signing something in the small print that says that any money you make from any company or any NIL deals you make the rest of your life, they get a percentage of that,” Weaver said. “You just have to make sure that you have someone that’s reading the fine print for you.