GreenSportsBlog launches our Earth Month coverage with a story about how five inspiring Rutgers University student-athletes and EcoAthletes Champions are helping to lead the #ClimateComeback by becoming the drivers of the first climate-focused name, image and likeness (NIL) program.
NIL REVOLUTIONIZES COLLEGE SPORTS
On June 30, 2021, the NCAA Board of Directors approved a groundbreaking policy that allowed all NCAA DI, DII and DIII student-athletes who are US citizens to be compensated for use of their name, image and likeness or, as it is now widely known, NIL.
It is not hyperbole to say that NIL, in less than two years, has revolutionized college sports and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
The lion’s share of attention around has gone to some (very) big money deals to attract or retain star football players, men’s and women’s basketballers, as well as a precious few from non-revenue sports.
But what about using NIL as a way to spark the #ClimateComeback?
ECOATHLETES AND KNIGHTS OF THE RARITAN
NIL support of climate-active student-athletes should not be a surprise. After all, polls show that GenZ is clearly the most enthusiastic generation about the need to make a meaningful difference on climate change. And NCAA student-athletes are among the most influential people on university campuses. This is certainly the case at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey and a member of the Big Ten, arguably, the most prestigious collegiate sports league in the US.
Yet, climate has not been part of the NIL playbook.
Until today, that is, with the announcement of a partnership between EcoAthletes, the three-year old nonprofit that ‘inspires and coaches athletes to lead climate action’ and Knights of the Raritan, the official Rutgers University NIL collective.
Knights of the Raritan will activate the first ever climate-themed NIL deals with five Rutgers student-athletes and EcoAthletes Champions to advocate for the much-needed #ClimateComeback. They will do so through a combination of initiatives generated by EcoAthletes, including podcast interviews, social media posts and in-person speaking appearances on or near the New Brunswick, NJ campus. The podcast and social media posts will go live in April as part of EcoAthletes’ Earth Month programming; the speaking appearances will take place during the fall 2023 semester.
“Our main goal at Knights of The Raritan is to support Rutgers student athletes who are using their platform to engage in their passions,” said Jon Newman, Knights of The Raritan executive director. “We’re honored to support “R” athletes and EcoAthletes in its mission to spur climate action globally.”
The Rutgers ‘Fab Five’ climate-themed NIL squad is made up of senior women’s gymnast Kaitlyn Bertola, sophomore Big Ten 3,000-meter women’s indoor track champion Alex Carlson, sophomore women’s lacrosse player Kelsey Klein, as well as sophomore women’s swimmers Halé Oal and Natalie Schick.
Gymnast Kaitlyn Bertola, The First
“I was excited to become the first EcoAthletes Champion at Rutgers and now I’m thrilled to be part of the first climate-themed NIL program,” shared Kaitlyn Bertola, who went from walk-on to captain of the gymnastics team. “While I’m graduating in May, I look forward to seeing what my fellow Rutgers Champions start doing this fall to build climate action on campus.”
Kaitlyn Bertola goes vertical on the uneven parallel bars during Rutgers’ February 2022 home meet against Michigan and the University of Alaska-Anchorage (Photo credit: Ben Solomon)
Kaitlyn Bertola (Photo credit: Rutgers University Athletics)
Women’s Lacrosse Defender Kelsey Klein, Going on Offense on Climate
“I’ve been passionate about making a positive difference on climate change since high school when I saw glaciers melting on an environmental leadership trip to Alaska,” Kelsey Klein, who plays defense for the Rutgers lacrosse team, offered. “Now, as an environmental policy, institutions, and behavior major, I know that the time is now for real climate action. And as a student-athlete, I know I have a platform to advocate for it. That’s why this NIL program is so exciting — it will help me amplify my climate impact!”
Kelsey Klein battles a Hofstra defender as she looks to set up a Rutgers teammate for a shot (Photo credit: Thomas Galski)
Kelsey Klein (Photo credit: Rutgers University Athletics)
“I am very passionate about advocating for those who are suffering climate injustices, specifically underrepresented peoples like Native Americans, people of color, and the poor who are impacted most harshly by the impacts of human-caused climate change, as well as with biodiversity loss” said butterfly swimmer Halé Oal, a political science and environmental studies double major. “I want to take the opportunity provided me by the EcoAthletes-Knights of the Raritan NIL partnership to do what I can as a Rutgers student-athlete to help advocate for climate justice!”
“Many of my friends feel hopeless about climate change because they think the problems are so vast and there is nothing they can do about it,” acknowledged backstroker Natalie Schick. “That is why I am so excited to be an EcoAthletes Champion and part of the Knights of the Raritan NIL program. It allows me to use my platform to actually make a positive impact on climate change!”
When they’re out of the pool, Halé Oal (l) and Natalie Schick stand up and speak up for the #ClimateComeback
2023 Big Ten Indoor 3,000 Meter Champion Alex Carlson, Ready to Run…and Win Her #ClimateComeback Race
“I am at the beginning of my climate advocacy journey,” said star middle-distance runner Alex Carlson. “What I do know is this: Humanity is behind in the climate game and needs to come back and fast. Being part of the Knights of the Raritan program and becoming an EcoAthletes Champion will allow me to quickly advance from ‘climate curious’ to ‘climate leader’. And that will help me help my fellow Rutgers students and friends accelerate the #Climate Comeback. That’s a race we have to win!”
Alex Carlson on her way to a 2nd place finish and 1st among collegiate runners at the January 2023 John Thomas Terrier Classic at Boston University (Photo credit: Boston University Athletics)
Alex Carlson (Photo credit: Rutgers University Athletics)
GSB’s Take: As founder and CEO of EcoAthletes and a Rutgers alum, I couldn’t be prouder of the partnership with Knights of the Raritan and especially of these five outstanding, climate-active student-athletes.
I believe that this partnership represents just the beginning of what can become a wave of climate-focused NIL deals. We expect that executives who lead climate-leading brands and nonprofits will look at the Rutgers program and see tremendous value in having authentic, climate-minded student-athletes endorse their climate-friendly products and/or programs. By doing so, those NIL sponsors will be funding and accelerating the #ClimateComeback.
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