College Quarterback Inks First-Known NIL Deal With Political Campaign

Whether the deal remains an outlier or becomes a new normal as the 2022 midterm election season heats up remains to be seen.
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Following his experience as a journalist — including 10 years with the Associated Press — Dean Golembeski managed communication departments at public and private colleges. Dean has written about higher education, politics, sports, and more, and has b...
Published on June 14, 2022
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  • College athletes have been able to profit off their name, image, and likeness since July.
  • College quarterback Dresser Winn agreed to a NIL deal with a political candidate.
  • Under the deal, Winn wore a campaign shirt at a football camp he hosts each year.

College quarterback Dresser Winn and Tennessee political candidate Colin Johnson didn't intend to shake up collegiate sports. But that's what they ended up doing when they signed a name, image, and likeness (NIL) deal for Winn to support Johnson's campaign.

University of Tennessee at Martin quarterback Winn and Johnson, who is running for district attorney in Tennessee's 27th Judicial District, are believed to have inked the first NIL agreement between a college athlete and political candidate.

Whether the deal remains an outlier or becomes a new normal as the 2022 midterm election season heats up remains to be seen.

Some athletes, however, have taken on public advocacy roles. For instance, University of South Carolina basketball player Zia Cooke has done COVID-19 vaccine public service announcements paid for by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"My agent, Dale Hutcherson, had mentioned to me that it would be the first NIL deal of its kind. I didn't think much of it at the time, and I definitely didn't know it would be as big of a deal as it was," Winn told BestColleges.

"I have had some other athletes reach out and ask how I went about getting the deal. I have also been recognized by people when I was out of town a couple weeks ago as the 'guy who signed the political deal,'" added Winn, who also has local NIL deals with Higher Ground Coffee and Wendell Alexander Realty.

Winn was a three-star quarterback coming out of Tennessee's Dresden High School in 2017. At UT Martin last season, Winn threw for 438 yards, completed 49.5% of his passes, and connected on two touchdowns. In 2018, he threw for 1,601 yards and 12 touchdowns. His goals this year are to win his conference title and play in the national championship game.

Johnson explained that his relationship with Winn goes back well before they signed the NIL deal.

"We live in a small town in rural west Tennessee," Johnson told Best Colleges. "Dresser was a local high school star in football. He was a quarterback on the team that won a state championship. And I did the announcing at the ball games. So, I've known Dresser, well, most of his entire life."

Johnson said the idea to sign Winn to a NIL contract came from a discussion he had with Hutcherson. Hutcherson is the son of Johnson's neighbor and had previously worked for a sports marketing law firm in Memphis. So he is familiar with NIL rules, Johnson explained.

"We were just talking about my campaign," Johnson recalled. "And one day, he [Hutcherson] called me and said, 'Hey, why can't we get Dresser to endorse you?' … Everybody here knows Dresser. I mean he's beloved. So, he talked me into it, and, basically, I said, 'OK. Yeah, let's do it.' … The whole thing was we just wanted to use Dresser to get out the vote for young people."

Under the deal they signed, Winn wore a Johnson campaign T-shirt at a football camp he hosts each year for local kids. He then posed for photos and posted them May 23 on his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. Winn has around 3,060 followers on Instagram, 1,308 followers on Twitter, and more than a thousand friends on Facebook.

Both Johnson and Winn declined to say what compensation Winn has received for his support. Johnson, who is running as an independent, said it's not clear if Winn's support has had any impact on his campaign. The election is just weeks away, with voters going to the polls Aug. 4.

"I don't know how to quantify that," Johnson said. "But I can promise you this, he's one of the guys I've never heard anybody say anything bad about. It's all good. No matter what, it's all good. It's great to have him endorsing me, and I hope he motivates young people to get out and, hopefully, vote for me."

As to whether his deal will serve as a model for others across the country, Johnson said he hasn't put a lot of thought into it. But he's certain there will be no ill effects in his district.

"Around here, it's a small race, and it won't have any negative impact, I don't think," Johnson said. "I don't know how that [a NIL deal] would work in a larger market with a large school when an athlete endorses a candidate who is maybe not aligned with the school and its values. I don't know how that would all play out."

Winn, meanwhile, has no regrets and offered some words of advice to other athletes.

"I am glad I did it," he said. "I just wanted to help support a longtime friend. I would tell other athletes to go for it as long as you are OK with what that candidate stands for."