Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). How HBCU athlete Ky’Wuan Dukes is learning the art of entrepreneurship.

The recent adoption of a uniform interim policy enacted by the NCAA has now opened the door for student-athletes nationwide to profit off of their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). What has been long overdue for many Black student-athletes, now has become an opportunity to grow and profit from their brand while learning the business side of entrepreneurship.

For Ky’Wuan Dukes, the opportunity to grow his brand and profit from his Name, Image, and Likeness could not have come at a better time. Dukes, a business major and football player at Johnson C. Smith University, became the first HBCU athlete to sign major sponsorship deals with Bojangles restaurant chain and blk. water International among others.

As a full-time student and athlete, managing the business side of landing NIL deals has created a new focus level for Dukes adding the title entrepreneur to an extremely busy, yet limited schedule. “The best thing about it (managing time on a limited schedule) is you got to have time with yourself to sit and think and to lock in on what you have planned for the next steps ahead.” Dukes explained to “I know that I have class so that is really the first thing. It’s a student-athlete before anything. I make sure I do that first and after classes I plan around my workouts, then business afterwards. It’s all levels and steps to each thing but you just want to plan it out.”

Dukes has learned a lot during this whirlwind of courtship from major corporations looking to sign athletes to endorsement deals. Always forward thinking, Dukes values the help offered by others and makes sure to involve those closest to him before any NIL deal is signed. It is part of what he feels will help later on in his professional development. “I’m blessed to have people around me that’s going over (my) paperwork. But when you do sign you need to have somebody around so you know what’s going on.” Dukes stated. “Be there. Read your paperwork and understand what’s going on with the company and your name.” When companies make their pitch to the star athlete, Dukes makes sure the alignment of the potential suitor aligns with his own personal vision of what a brand should represent. “Personally, if I don’t think the brand is something I want to work with, I am not going to work with it. If I feel like its a good brand or if I feel like its something that’s in a positive direction, I’d be able to work for it.”

The financial impact as a direct result of NIL has continued to fuel the debate whether student-athletes in college should be paid above Cost of Attendance (COA) for players on scholarship. For Dukes, the financial windfall has provided an immediate influx of cash to help with the every day needs of a college student. More importantly, Dukes has been able to help many of his siblings and other family members as well. “It’s helped me do things on my own more with taking care of myself, helping my siblings and my family. It’s been a blessing in disguise. I’m thankful for it all tho.”

Even with the increased attention of becoming the first HBCU athlete to sign a major sponsorship NIL deal, Dukes sees the value of his purpose knowing he has become a role model to many of the kids from his native hometown southside of Statesville, North Carolina. Equally important for Dukes is the attention NIL deals have created for young kids who now believe they can attend an HBCU and still attract sponsorship deals from major corporations. “We all deserve to be recognized just as much as any other institution or college with a lot of exposure. We deserve to be in that same situation and it is happening now.” Dukes explains. “We can’t look at the past because all of the numbers are going to be there for everyone to see. I’m glad that any HBCU athlete at any school get paid off their Name, Image, and Likeness no matter the size of the deal as long as its real.”

Though the launch of the 2022 football season is just several months away, Dukes remains solely focused on taking care of business on the field with his teammates for the Golden Bulls this fall. Dukes realizes NIL deals will take care of itself as long as he becomes the best version of himself as a student-athlete. “Hopefully, I see myself in the NFL but I know there’s going to be some real big deals coming ahead. I’m just ready to get back on the field and just focus on the start of my career, maintain it, being the greatest Ky’Wuan Dukes I can really be for myself.”

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