Course Explores New Name, Image, Likeness Rules in College Athletics and Other Modern Applications of Sports Communication

Sports play a significant role today, serving as a form of entertainment and fostering connections all around the world. The part of sports that people often forget to consider is the role of communication in sports.  

This semester, J.D. Ponder, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Communication Studies, is teaching “Sports Communication,” which examines the intersection of communication and sports. This course is designed to help students better understand the importance of sports in our world. 

The course covers issues such as sports and politics, gender, race, stereotyping, stalking, etc. One of the larger projects that students are required to complete in this course is a media analysis. For this project, students must choose a famous athlete to follow on social media for two months and analyze their use of social media. The goal of the project is to have the students evaluate what the athlete did well and give advice about what they could do better in terms of using media to communicate effectively. 

Social media combined with sports communication can pose numerous different areas to analyze and study. Ponder expressed how immensely social media has changed “the game.”   

“For instance, sports organizations now do a lot of training on new athletes, particularly, for instance, the NFL for the rookie orientation or the NBA for their rookie orientation,” Ponder said. “They have an entire set of people who educate them on how to use social media more effectively and professionally, and how to not hurt the brand of the organization, or the brand of the NBA and NFL MLB…” 

When considering any form of communication channel, there are ethical challenges. Professionals today face challenges of transparency, honesty and negotiation power for athletes. For example, post-2020, the sports world saw multiple demonstrations from athletes supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. These demonstrations were an instance where an athlete was engaging in negotiating power to show support for a specific cause. 

The Name, Image, Likeness Policy has changed the world of sports in the past year. The policy went into full effect on July 1, 2021. This policy allows college athletes the opportunity to make money based on name, image and likeness. However, the NCAA is keeping the commitment to avoid pay-for-play and inappropriate inducements regarding choosing a school. 

Phil Tizio, Kent State Assistant Athletics Director for Compliance/Eligibility Coordinator, spoke to the class on March 17, 2022, about how the new policy has played out at Kent State: “It's just a student athlete, participating in any kind of name, image, likeness activity, where that company or themselves there is going to use their name, likeness, to promote or sponsor business,” Phil said.  

Ponder expanded upon these ideas, saying that recent court cases in Ohio have allowed college athletes to make money based on the idea of Name, Image, Likeness. This now allows for businesses, brands, etc., to research athletes, reach out to the athletes and pursue interest in them for a partnership or deal. The athlete then informs their college or university and sits down with student legal services to go over all the details together before agreeing to take on this partnership or deal. 

As the world of communication changes, so will the world of sports, and vice versa. The goal of the Sports Communication course is to help students understand the importance of sports, how we explain them, and the different forms of communication that can be applied in the industry.  

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 28, 2024 09:40 PM
Karli Miller, '22