On the first day NCAA athletes could profit off their name, image, and likeness, a group of current and former NCAA athletes showed they’re not stopping at NIL.
With the help of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass), current and former athletes from Loyola Marymount to Washington State launched the United College Athlete Advocates, a nonprofit hoping to serve as a collective voice for the rights of college athletes.
The organization aims to fill a gap in college sports — the lack of collective representation for athletes, which many professional U.S. athletes have in recognized unions. Currently, there’s an organization called the National College Players Association, but no formal union since athletes aren’t considered university employees.
The UCAA’s founders felt it was the perfect time to launch a nonprofit that would focus not just on athletes’ economic rights, but also racial justice, gender equality, mental health, and LGBTQIA+ rights.
“It really is this perfect storm in our eyes, with the Supreme Court Decision, with NIL rolling out,” said former UCLA soccer player Kaiya McCullough. “It feels like the momentum is there.”
Former Washington State and UC Berkeley track and field athlete Andrew Cooper noted that several such movements — like the #WeAreUnited movement, which he helped found — were loud. But they didn’t singularly move the needle on the issues they supported, like economic rights.
Cooper believes that an organization — even if it’s not an official union — can help strengthen athletes’ voices to drive real change. He hopes it will make sure athletes are “connected, educated, and compensated.”
“The true injustice of amateurism is the fact that college athletes are completely powerless in the existing system,” Cooper said.
The UCAA also aims to serve as a watchdog for coaches and athletic departments who mistreat players. University of Northern Colorado football player Kassidy Woods was cut from the Washington State football team last year after joining the #WeAreUnited movement and opting out of the COVID-19 season.
“I realized athletes need protection,” Woods said. “Who’s gonna hold these institutions and coaches accountable?”
He hopes the UCAA will do just that.