When I was 19, I was forced to make the impossible choice of choosing between my two great passions at the time: skiing and football. I was both an Olympic skier and Colorado Buffs football player, two sports that as it turned out, are diametrically opposed beyond just the skillset required.
Olympic athletes do not receive a traditional salary for competing in the Olympics, so my Olympic skiing career was made financially possible through endorsements. Meanwhile, my college football career was bound by the NCAA’s “amateurism” rules that prohibit college athletes from accepting commercial sponsorships or endorsements. As a result, when I decided to compete in the Olympics and needed to accept ski endorsements, I was deemed ineligible to play college football by the NCAA, and my college football career was cut short by two years.
I was devastated. I had worked so hard only to see my football dreams broken by what seemed like an antiquated and convoluted rule. I fought the NCAA with a lawsuit in 2004, testified in congressional hearings, and have been a vocal advocate for student athlete rights ever since.
So, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously last year that the NCAA’s restrictions on education-related benefits for college athletes violated antitrust law, and then the NCAA’s board of directors moved to allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL), I was elated. I felt vindicated for myself and for the many other athletes who have lost their eligibility, their scholarships, and their dreams. And I knew that I wanted to support the next generation of student athletes in our new NIL world.
I co-founded Integrate in 2010 after I retired from sports. I had taken classes at UPenn’s Wharton Business School through an NFL program, began my business career in marketing where I experienced first-hand what was missing in marketing tech, then built a company based on the idea of “integrating,” connecting, and streamlining the marketing technology ecosystem.
In those 12 years, the world has changed a lot. Being able to promote and benefit from your own name, image, and likeness in today’s landscape of social media, digital content, and digital advertising is a given. That’s why at Integrate, we are supporting college athletes who are walk-on athletes or in lower-profile sports that traditionally don’t receive as much funding, with NIL sponsorships opportunities.
No 19-year-old should have to endure what I had to endure.
So, with that said, I’m honored to share the stories of our five College Game Changers and am proud to support them on their journeys: