In 2015, Ramogi Huma, whose father is Kenyan, was named by Time Magazine as one of the 12 new faces of black leadership in the US., Huma was recognized for his role in building public support and achieving historic gains for college athletes.
When Huma was a freshman at University California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 1995, one of his teammates, All-America linebacker Donnie Edwards, told a local radio station that he didn’t have enough money to buy food. A few days later an agent left a bag of groceries worth about $150 on Edwards’s doorstep. When the governing body for college sports, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) found out, Edwards, who would go on to have a long and successful pro career, was suspended for one game. The suspension had a profound impact on Huma: UCLA could sell Edwards’s jersey in the campus bookstore for $50, but he couldn’t afford dinner?
The summer after Huma’s freshman year, his coaches recommended that he participate in summer workouts with the team but also told him that because the workouts were voluntary and didn’t occur during the school year, NCAA rules prohibited UCLA from providing health insurance. Huma was stunned. “It was very clear that something wasn’t right,” he says.
For over 15 years now, Huma has fought for the rights of college athletes, he’s listened to every type of sad tale: the kid who gets hurt, loses his athletic scholarship, fails to graduate and is stuck with the medical bills; the athlete facing NCAA persecution for taking some spare cash while his coach makes millions.
“It’s hard, hearing how powerless these players are,” Huma told Time magazine in a previous interview. “But it feeds my motivation. Because it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Huma helped recruit plaintiffs to a class action originally filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, who argued that men’s college basketball and football players should be compensated for the use of their likenesses. A federal judge, in a ruling, said schools could set up trusts for athletes.
In early 2014, Huma led the effort to unionize Northwestern University football players. A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that players indeed function as school employees and deserve a seat at the bargaining table. A few months later, the NCAA board gave major conferences autonomy to offer players stipends. “None of this happens without Ramogi,” says Tim Waters, national political director of the United Steelworkers union, which has helped fund Huma’s efforts.
After years of campaigning against the NCAA, Huma, 42, is on the verge of his biggest victory. The California Legislature passed bill SB-206 earlier this month, which would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses. The NCAA assailed the bill, authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), as “unconstitutional” and warned that it would “erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletes.”
According to LA Times, Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t given a direct answer to whether he’ll sign the legislation but said he has “very strong opinions on the subject” as a former college athlete. He pitched for Santa Clara. Newsom has until Oct. 13 to make a decision. If he signs, it wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2023.
Big names have supported the bill. LeBron James tweeted support for the bill to more than 43 million followers. So did Draymond Green. Russell Okung, the Chargers offensive lineman, testified in favor of the legislation in July. As expected, the NCAA, the University of California, California State University, Stanford and USC are opposed to the bill.