Chargers left tackle Russell Okung doesn’t just stick to football. He’s provided better opportunities for at-risk youth and fought for his colleagues as a member of the NFL Players Association.
The two-time Pro Bowl player and former Super Bowl champion is now fighting for collegiate athletes.
Okung testified Tuesday in support of the Fair Pay to Play Act, a bill that would allow California student-athletes to make money from the use of their names, images and likenesses.
Okung took the floor in Sacramento for about 2 minutes to vouch for Senate Bill 206, which was passed by the California Assembly Higher Education committee 9-0 and will now move to the Assembly’s appropriations committee.
Another win! My legislation, #SB206, which will allow California college athletes to earn income from their name, image, and likeness — just like everyone else has the right to do — won bipartisan approval today in the Assembly Higher Ed Committee (current vote is 9-0)! pic.twitter.com/ApgX1YJd4z
— Nancy Skinner (@NancySkinnerCA) July 9, 2019
Okung pointed to the United States’ history of exploitation of labor against black people to make a case against the NCAA’s restrictions. He also mentioned how college athletes aren’t allowed to profit from their skills the same way as other students.
“Today, the free-market system in the United States works for everyone but two groups of people, the athlete and the prisoner,” Okung said. “Both parties are provided room, food, board and some even get an education, but most importantly, both parties are denied the right of significant compensation for their labor. By no means am I suggesting that student-athletes are enslaved against their will, but I can’t help but to wonder what crime have they committed to deserve being alienated from the financial fruits of their labor.
“For a moment, please ponder, whose rights do the athletes have more semblance to? Slaves and prisoners? Or the student body?”
Okung’s voice for student-athletes didn’t end at the state capital. He also released a story on The Players’ Tribune, explaining why he’s in support of NCAA reform and sharing his struggles as a college athlete at Oklahoma State.
Looking forward to addressing the CA Senate Committee on the Fair Pay to Play Act this afternoon. Wrote about it here: https://t.co/b4dhlWNdl2
— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) July 9, 2019
Okung, who was drafted sixth overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2010 NFL draft, revealed that he only had $100 in his bank account heading into his senior year.
“My mother had just lost her job and required my financial support,” Okung wrote. “I was lucky enough to know that I would likely be picked in the first round of the NFL draft that spring and would eventually be financially secure. But at that point in time — like so many college athletes around the country — I was broke.
“Yes, some of us were fortunate enough to be all but promised multimillion-dollar contracts down the road. But promises don’t pay rent that’s due in a week and they don’t enable us to provide money to parents and siblings who are struggling financially. … My situation was a common one, and it continues to be for so many college athletes.”