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Arkansas bill calls for study of letting high school athletes enter sponsorship deals

by Neal Earley | March 17, 2023 at 7:31 p.m.
Rep. RJ Hawk, R-Bryant, listens to debate about HB1519 on the floor of the House of Representatives at the Arkansas state Capitol on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

An Arkansas lawmaker filed a bill filed Friday to study the prospects of allowing high school athletes the right to receive compensation for their likeness.

Rep. R.J. Hawk, R-Bryant, filed House Bill 1679 to have lawmakers meet to discuss and study the issue when they are out of session. Currently, the Arkansas Activities Association, the regulatory body for high school athletics, does not allow student-athletes to receive compensation for their name, image or likeness.

If passed, the House and Senate education committees would be tasked with whether high school students should be able to receive compensation for their publicity rights. Lawmakers would have to file a written report by Oct. 31, 2024, on their findings, according to the bill.

Hawk said Arkansas needs to adapt to a changing landscape in high school and college sports, noting that student-athletes in many states can be compensated for their publicity rights. The first-term lawmaker pointed to neighboring Tennessee and Louisiana, which allow high school athletes to sign paid sponsorship deals.

Hawk said the House and Senate education committees will likely get input from the Arkansas Activities Association, school administrators and coaches for their views of how the rules of amateurism should change.

“The reason we didn’t file a bill to try to make a law is, we wanted to get everybody at the table,” he said.

Hawk said the issue of letting high school students sign sponsorship deals is no longer a question of if, but when.

“To tell a person — whether it be a kid, be a parent, be whoever — that they can’t make money doing something they are good at, I have a problem with that,” he said.

The bill is a companion to legislation filed Thursday by House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, who proposed giving high school athletes eligibility to profit off their name, image and likeness if they have been accepted to a college or have signed a written agreement to attend one.

Shepherd said his House Bill 1649 is an effort to keep Arkansas competitive in college recruiting. Twenty-five other states and the District of Columbia allow high school students to enter into sponsorship deals, according to the Business of College Sports.


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