Sonny Vaccaro changed the name of the game for athletes with NIL. He was an advocate for the Underdog.
Sparking change and disrupting the traditional way of business is never easy. After over 12 years working in the sports business, this still rings true in our industry today. Two weeks ago, I watched the new movie Air, which got me thinking about Sonny Vaccaro and his vision for NIL decades before we had language for it. Sonny’s deal with Michael Jordan was a first-of-its-kind and it laid the groundwork for the legalization of NIL today. Vaccaro did many remarkable things in his career, but one thing rings true: he was an advocate for the underdog.
After watching the film, I wondered two things:
- Would student-athletes have been able to achieve Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) without him as a champion for the change?
- Can only people with power and resources make major changes occur?
I don’t know the answer, but I sure like to pull for the underdog. As I’ve learned more about Sonny Vaccaro, I read he reached out to players for over 15 years to be the plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit against the NCAA for players to be compensated for their name, image and likeness. This was long time to remain committed and fight for change. A lot of players declined over the years, because going up against a powerhouse like the NCAA feels like a losing battle, but in 2009 he got a yes from Ed O’Bannon. This act of courage of O’Bannon and the perseverance of Vaccaro set into motion the passing of the NIL legislation in 2020. Pursuing change can be a lonely path with a lot more second guessers than supporters. Let’s not forget the history of NIL or those that championed the cause.