HOLLYWOOD, CA. Days before SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey called for federal regulation on names, images and likeness, a group of star athletes touted the importance of the NIL and what it means for them to empower themselves as entrepreneurs and voices in the wider sports media space. .
Their voices were supported by LeBron James and his production company.
Uninterrupted, a brand of SpringHill, owned by James and business partner Maverick Carter, launched the first Uninterrupted Film Festival with Tribeca at NeueHouse Hollywood on Thursday. Two films premiered at the festival: GOLIATH, a three-part documentary about the life of Wilt Chamberlain. Also premiered was Black Ice, a documentary about the history of racism in hockey from the perspective of black hockey players past and present.
Between screenings, the festival hosted panel events focusing on a number of topics such as the NIL and the importance of storytelling by athletes. The festival ended with a live recording of “The Draymond Green Show” featuring Green and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks.
Watching from the upper level was none other than James, who briefly appeared on the blue carpet and then watched Green’s show with Carter and his agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul.
One of the panels, titled State of the Game: The Next Generation, explored the new NIL landscape for up-and-coming athletes. The panel was moderated by New York Giants linebacker Keivon Thibodeau and featured three USC phenoms, women’s basketball player Juju Watkins, USC football player Sayer Wright, and Malachi Nelson.
The group discussed how some of the high-profile players navigate the NIL.
Wright is a junior quarterback for USC and a native of Los Angeles. He has a thriving acting career. Wright had a big role in Space Jam: The New Legacy as LeBron’s son James and is also a recurring character on the ABC series Growing Up.
He detailed the struggles of balancing his acting and football career while still being a full-time student and managing his brand and NIL deals.
“When I entered college, I didn’t want to get too immersed in [NIL]because I felt like I had to put myself first,” Wright said. “I was also filming before I went to college and got hired. on football. You don’t really care about football.” And that was even something I faced when I got to USC, when our coaching staff changed. The new coaching staff was a bit hesitant to put me in the game and play me because they were like, ‘I don’t know if he really, really wants to do this.’ And so it takes a lot of work to change that point of view.”
Watkins was born and raised in Watts, where she was a basketball phenomenon. Watkins attended Sierra Canyon High School, where she won the state championship and was named Gatorade’s Female Basketball Player of the Year. Watkins also won two gold medals with the US Under-17 team. She was the No. 1 rookie in her class and decided to stay close to home and play collegiate basketball with USC alongside another Sierra Canyon superstar, Bronnie James.
Watkins prioritizes patience in her journey with NIL and strives to make deals that are in line with herself and her values. She wants to reap the benefits of the NIL not only for herself and her family, but also for the community.
“I partnered with this brand called Ready Life,” Watkins said. “They give out mortgages to families with low credit scores, which is very important to my community because we have a lot of families that don’t have much money, but it’s still important that they can own property and have a home.
“I think throughout my journey I have always tried to get back to my roots. I think that always, whatever I do, I want to make sure that I give back to my community. I always imagine where I come from, because it is important to me and something that is very close to my heart. So no matter how far I go, I feel like I always want to preach the importance of community, family and just being yourself.”
Empowerment was the dominant theme of the festival and it included media participation. Carter, CEO of SpringHill, spoke about its importance to athletes and his role in driving the new wave of player-led media.
“I love working with athletes and I love stories,” Carter said. “So, bringing these two things together is, I think, the highlight of my career, but more importantly, we have been very fortunate to work with amazing athletes. Athletes from all over the world, but someone like Joel Embiid or Naomi Osaka, we’re just extremely grateful and lucky. The idea and heart of the company has always been to empower athletes and build a brand. It was really about telling stories through an empowering lens and I think being a part of that is just a dream come true for me and I wake up every day excited and ready to go for it and tell amazing stories.”
Embiid attended a panel discussion with Carter promoting his production studio, Miniature Géant.
Even though player-driven media has emerged, such as The Green Show, JJ Redick’s podcast, Paul George starting his own show, and many other players who started their media careers, there is a belief that there are still place and appetite for “traditional media”. The two intersect in a way that allows both to feed off each other.
“I think [both media areas] just fantastic,” said Carter. “I think that athletes, who are part of the storytelling ecosystem, of which journalists are a part, operate in parallel. I think they are forever. I don’t think it will ever go away. I also think traditional sports media is essential.
“Ultimately, as a sports fan, I grew up to be a sports fan. I wish I had this when I was a kid, right? I wanted to hear from Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders and Michael Jordan. So I love it. I think it’s forever and I think they complement each other very well.”