The question of whether international athletes at UConn and elsewhere should profit from their name, image and likeness as their American teammates do has officially reached the highest levels of U.S. government.
At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the issue, citing UConn basketball stars Adama Sanogo and Aaliyah Edwards as examples.
"Will you commit to publishing guidance or issuing rulemaking to ensure that Adama and Aaliyah and other international students on the Huskies and other teams have a fair opportunity on their NIL rights for their entire college career?" asked Blumenthal, who, along with fellow Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, wrote Mayorkas last week asking for a change in visa rules to benefit international athletes.
"We are indeed of looking at the issue very carefully and I hope quickly," Mayorkas said. "We'll move as quickly as we can."
Under rule changes introduced in 2021, college athletes are permitted to sign sponsorship deals, sell merchandise and otherwise profit off their name, image and likeness, or NIL. In most cases, however, these new rights have not extended to athletes from other countries, who have typically refrained from NIL opportunities for fear of losing their student visas.
Blumenthal and others have called for changes to visa rules that would allow international athletes, and possibly other international students as well, to benefit from NIL.
"They should be given some opportunity to take advantage of their name, image and likeness just like American students," Blumenthal told CT Insider last week. "The details have to be resolved in a way that preserves the basic integrity of the student visa process but at the same time opens these opportunities to foreign students, because depriving them of any and all opportunities seems desperately unfair."
The NIL issue has drawn attention during UConn's runs in the men's and women's NCAA Tournaments, where Sanogo, Edwards and other international students have played key roles. Several Huskies players have called out what they see as unfairness in the rules, as have men's basketball coach Dan Hurley, women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and athletic director David Benedict.
"Certainly a player of Adama's caliber deserves it for everything he's done in his career and everything he's done for UConn basketball," Hurley said. "You would hope that would change, but that's obviously something that, again, Homeland Security and government, and that stuff doesn't tend to move super quickly."
Mayorkas appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday as part of an oversight hearing, where he fielded questions about enforcement at the U.S. Mexico border, as well as about Ukrainian refugees, TikTok and more.