Growing up in Asia, I had always seen the western influence in our cultures, from television series to movies to even the glamorous “American Dream” that many speak about. I was excited, not only to be able to attend college in the United States, but to be recruited for Division I track and field at the University of Pennsylvania. I was enthralled by the myriad opportunities that awaited me in what was known as the land of opportunities. However, I quickly learned that such opportunities were not equally accessible to all.
In my career as an athlete, I have been blessed with the ability to collaborate with brands and build relationships with those who believe in my aspirations and want to support me as best as they can. Whether it be through apparels, spike shoes, or nutritional products, this support has been an integral part of my journey. As I competed at the Youth Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, and Southeast Asian Games, I succeeded in breaking multiple national records and am grateful for all the support my sponsors provided.
Only recently were American student athletes able to sign contracts for sponsorship deals, thanks to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s rule change in July 2021. I thought that I could finally capitalize on my Name, Image, and Likeness and be compensated for my contributions to the sport in the US, like I had done back in Singapore. But to my dismay, the new ruling only applied to non-international student-athletes.
The reason? Signing any form of payment would result in a violation of our F1 student visa. This visa does not allow international students to work more than a certain number of hours, and even if we do work, it must be on campus. This means that international student-athletes like myself are unable to sign NIL deals with brands like Nike or Adidas without losing our student visas and being unable to continue our academic pursuits in the US.
I feel injustice. As an international student-athlete, I have the same abilities and achievements as my non-international counterparts, yet I am not given equal access to the same opportunities. It goes against the very principles of the American Dream, which promises that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement," regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.
It's time for a change. International student-athletes deserve the same opportunities as non-international student-athletes to capitalize on their NIL. We should not be discriminated against based on our visa status. The NCAA should work with the US government to find a solution that allows international student-athletes to sign NIL deals without jeopardizing their visas.
Furthermore, international student-athletes bring diversity and talent to the US collegiate sports scene, and they deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work and achievements. If colleges and universities want to continue to attract the best and brightest international student-athletes, they must provide them with the same opportunities to capitalize on their NIL as their domestic counterparts.
Therefore, I urge readers to sign my petition advocating for international student-athletes to have equitable access to NIL funding. Let's make our voices heard and ask the NCAA and the US government to work together to ensure that international student-athletes are not discriminated against based on their visa status. Together, we can make a difference and create a more equitable and inclusive sports environment for all.
KAMPTON KAM is a student-athlete and Wharton first year studying finance from Singapore. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.