By Yasmin Mustefa
Federal Way, Wash.
Imani Hill never thought that she would play lacrosse. But her freshman year of high school, Hill’s basketball coach told her that she needed to participate in a spring sport to stay in shape for next season. An hour later, she pulled her out of class to speak with the lacrosse coach.
“I’m just like, ‘I have no idea what lacrosse is,’” Hill said. But the coach con-vinced Hill to try. “I went out, and it was so interesting to me because of how unfamiliar it was. It was a really challenging task.”
By her junior year, several colleges were observing Hill. She decided to join Delaware State University’s Division I program in the fall of 2015, which she said was the only historically Black college or university (HBCU) at the time with a women’s lacrosse team. In 2019, while attending grad school at Auburn University in Alabama, where she is a current PhD candidate, she switched from player to head coach.
Although she is no longer a coach for collegiate lacrosse, that breadth of ex-perience gave Hill a distinct perspective on the name, image, and likeness (NIL) laws that multiple states recently passed. The new laws allow college athletes to use their name, image, or likeness for compensa-tion and prevents colleges and universities from pro-hibiting athletes to do so.
While Hill acknowledged the “cool opportunities” the NCAA gives athletes, she’s glad players now have money-making opportunities she didn’t. “I think that it’s something that’s necessary and something that really should have happened a long time ago,” she said.
“As a whole, sometimes we forget that the NCAA is a governing body, and ultimately they are a business. I think that some-times we kind of get that confused with an organization that supports athletes or wants what’s best for athletes.”
As a player, Hill practiced up to 20 hours a week, with additional hours of physical therapy, conditioning, and traveling. Players were given about a $500 stipend every season, she said, but that wasn’t enough to cover off-campus expenses.
Hill’s family lived close to Delaware State, and she remembers them filling up her dorm room with snacks and going home on weekends. “There are a lot of athletes who don’t have those luxuries. So literally their entire dependability is, like, on the university and what the university gives them,” she said. By contrast, the new laws could allow student-athletes to save money, help their families, or buy food, clothes, or school supplies.
At the same time, Hill also believes that the laws will continue to blur the line between college and professional athletes. She’s not sure how she feels about that. “How do we define those lines that let the world know that this person is still a college student before anything else?”