Think NIL is the devil? Alabama football's Emil Ekiyor and the children he helps would disagree | Goodbread
It's supposed to be quiet and empty here at Collins-Riverside Intermediate School in Northport.
School is out, after all, and it's never more out than on a Sunday in July. But there's a pack of cars in the parking lot, and as I approach the gymnasium, the echoing sound of bouncing basketballs breaks the summer silence. Upon entry, the smell of Dreamland Bar-B-Cue nearby gives way to a scent, wafting through the gym, from a couple dozen Domino's pizzas. Shoes are everywhere.
Something is happening, and it's no basketball game.
Volunteers bustle about and do their thing while a few kids shoot baskets. There's Emil Ekiyor, a returning starter on Alabama football's offensive line, over in one corner, and he's got some math to do: roughly 300 pairs of shoes on Saturday, another 250 or so on Sunday, and one big difference made to needy children in both Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
Something is happening, indeed. NIL is happening.
It's not the kind of NIL that's making college coaches lose sleep at night. It's not the kind of NIL that makes splashy headlines when a five-star recruit reels in six- or seven-figure money just for signing his name.
Ekiyor is here lending his name and platform to a shoe drive for kids, in partnership with a non-profit called Samaritan's Feet and Truist Bank. The link on his Instagram bio goes to his online donation center. He's already been to Bessemer for a shoe drive he put on earlier this year with help from teammates Cameron Latu, Henry To'o To'o and Jaylen Moody.
For one Alabama player, getting hungry kids fed or gathering donations of school supplies might be the way to give back. For another, it might be helping the elderly, or battered women, or people with disabilities, instead of children.
To Ekiyor, it's putting shoes on kids for a reason.
"I vividly remember having a teammate who grew up in juvenile and foster homes, and one day at basketball practice, he busted right out of his shoes they were so worn down. I remember having to give him an extra pair of shoes that I had, because I was in a better situation than he was growing up," Ekiyor said. "That stuck with me. I think it's really cool that, fast-forwarding to now, I'm a person giving shoes to kids based on one situation like that. Shoes can be an important thing for kids trying to play sports."
When Alabama coach Nick Saban says that NIL is a good concept in theory, if not always in current practice, this is one of the applications he's talking about. For some, NIL is a devil that's turning recruiting into a cash bidding war and rendering all other reasons to choose a college meaningless. For others, it's a long-overdue means of getting athletes a much-deserved slice of a $4 billion pie. For Ekiyor, at least on this day, it's a way to help out a community that supports Crimson Tide football with all its might.
In reality, NIL is all those things at once.
When Ekiyor enrolled at Alabama as a freshman in 2018, NCAA athletes weren't permitted to lend their name to anything, not even charity. It might've been the most inane, arcane rule in an NCAA manual full of them. Four years later, after NIL legislation destroyed the NCAA's ridiculous stance on this, athletes can make a difference like they never could before.
"It's so cool to be able to use NIL to team up with a company. I don't have to do it on my own," Ekiyor said. "I've got support from an organization that's done this kind of thing in the past."
Most often, we hear about the worst of NIL. It's problematic and unwieldy and it's ripped the few remaining teeth out of NCAA enforcement. In barely more than a year of existence, it's managed to turn college sports upside down.
But at Collins-Riverside last Sunday, it was accomplishing something very different.
Donations to Emil Ekiyor's shoe drive can be made at Samaritansfeet.org/Alabama/
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread