Rep. Mark Walker wades into fight over student-athlete compensation

His bill aims to free up NCAA athletes to profit from third-party use of their names

GOP starting pitcher Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., pitches during the annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington on Thursday, June 15, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Playing sports is almost like a full-time job for many big-name college athletes, but they’re routinely blocked from making money off their fame.

Rep. Mark Walker is hoping Congress can change that. The North Carolina Republican, a former college athlete himself, announced plans to introduce a bill next week that would let student-athletes be financially compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness in commercial products.

His bill would change the definition of a “qualified amateur sports organization” in the tax code to prohibit the NCAA from restricting such compensation, Walker said in an interview with the Raleigh News and Observer.

Walker stressed that his bill does not require a university or the NCAA to pay students for their athletic performance.

“Here’s the thing: We’re not asking the NCAA to pay a single dollar into this. You’ve done your part offering a full scholarship. Just don’t restrict the rest of it,” Walker told the News and Observer. 

Walker’s push arrives amid mounting legal and political pressure put on universities to rethink their treatment of student-athletes.

Athletes scored a muted victory a few years ago with O’Bannon v. NCAA, a case that grew out of a collegiate basketball player who later saw his likeness pop up in a video game. While the court ruled that the NCAA must now allow universities to pay student-athletes the “full cost of attendance,” including living expenses, that’s as far as it went. Any compensation beyond that can still be restricted.

In an op-ed last year for the News and Observer, Walker threatened the NCAA with legislative action.

“When an athlete commits to a school he or she is asked to surrender all rights to use his or her name, image and likeness,” he wrote. “The NCAA has been given time to assuage these concerns, but has ultimately fallen short ... it’s time we examined whether or not more motivation is needed to improve the system for players, administrators, and fans alike.” 

Walker was a three-sport letterman at Trinity Baptist College and still gets out on the field. Last year he was the the GOP’s starting pitcher at the annual Congressional Baseball Game.

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