#123 Name, Image, Likeness

the christian economist dave arnott

#123 Name, Image, Likeness 

 The “Name, Image, Likeness” policy allows collegiate athletes to earn money from their individual endorsements.  This increase in freedom is in line with Christian Economics. 


I received an unusual invitation from our Athletic Department at Dallas Baptist University this month.  They asked me to make some video recordings about personal finance for their new NIL program.  First, I’m the Christian Economist in macroeconomics, not personal finance.  And second, what is NIL?   


Name, image, likeness, is the program that allows college athletes to gain their own personal endorsements, as of July 1, 2021.  Before this ruling, endorsements were allowed at the NCAA, conference, and University level, but individual athletes were seen as amateurs who could not accept money for their performance.  Now, the difference between a professional and an amateur has been significantly clouded over the years, but that’s not my subject today.   

A Christian Economist wants to know if this is the correct way to distribute goods and services.  In this case, the service being provided is the name, image, and likeness of the collegiate athlete.    

Name – Image – Likeness (NIL)


In current culture, we are known by our name, and that’s what college athletes are supplying to demanders in the name, image, and likeness endorsement program.  In his book Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias makes a fascinating connection between current Indian and first-century Roman life.  He says that back in his home country of India, he is often introduced as the son of his father because, in that society, family lineage is important.  As a matter of fact, you can pretty accurately identify a person’s class in India from their name.  

Back to our subject.  In the first century, names were important.  People wanted to know the lineage of Jesus.  They were astounded that a person of such great knowledge of the scriptures came from a poor family.  People were also known for their geographic heritage.  The scripture that asks in John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  That probably best applies to the University in this analysis.   

I think it’s just fascinating that a 17-year-old has gained enough notoriety to sell his or her name.  Actually, I think it’s a good thing.  As the Christian Economist, I support people owning their own goods and services, and that certainly includes the ability to sell their name.  I’m also pretty impressed by the early development of young people.  My fellow baby boomers tend to disparage the college gen Z-ers.  But I appreciate their differences from my generation.  I teach a few hundred of them every year at Dallas Baptist University, and they give me hope for the future.  So when people say they are lazy, or whatever, they have not met my students at DBU.  They show up for Macro at 8:00 twice a week, engage with their fellow students, and complete the assignments they are given.  I love this generation. 



One of the most popular scriptures about economics takes place when the chief priests were trying to trap Jesus by asking if his disciples paid the temple tax.  He famously asked in Luke 20: 24  “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.  25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 

This scripture is often used to justify paying taxes, and it might.  Sergiy Saydometov and I explain this in more detail in our book Biblical Economic Policy.  But readers of the scriptures often miss the most important point, in the second half of the story.  Jesus instructs them, “Give to God the things that are God’s.  So if the coin goes to Caesar because his image is on it, WE should go to God because His image is on us.  I explain more details in podcast #32 Made in God’s Image.  



In the Christian worldview, we attempt to be more like Christ.  There is an unpublished book on my computer tentatively titled “There IS a God, and You’re not it!”  So we intend to be LIKE God, but not to BE God.  We are supposed to get our self-esteem, not from the products nor services we demand nor supply, not from what we DO, but from who we ARE.   

Many of the freshmen arrive at Dallas Baptist University seeking clarification about what they should DO.  When they take the required course Developing a Christian Mind, they read one of my favorite Christian worldview books, The Call by Oz Guinness.  He says we have two calls: The first is to BE, that is, to be a follower of Christ.  The second is to DO.    



This hits at the nexus of two conflicting principles for the Christian Economist.  The first is private property.  The athlete should own the fruits of their labor.  In the past, the NCAA or the University could advertise that a popular player was on their team, and they kept the revenue that was generated by the athlete.  But, by keeping the money from huge events like the College Football Playoffs and Men’s Basketball March Madness, the NCAA redistributes that money from the richer Power Five conferences to Division II and Division III schools.  Hold onto your economic hat: The Christian economist is FOR redistribution?  Well, I’m certainly not for FORCED redistribution, but in this case, the NCAA voluntarily redistributes the revenue.   

NIL will democratize the endorsement process.  Previously, only the NCAA, Conferences, and Universities could make deals.  Now, individuals will seek smaller deals, perhaps with local restaurants and car dealerships.  Social media will probably come first.  A small website can pay a few dollars to an athlete for blogging on their site.  It’s somewhat equivalent to the internet democratizing information.  

It’s still early in the NIL area, but so far, the average revenue for Division I athletes in July was $471, while those in Division II earned an average of $81 and those in Division III, $47.  An economist expects and accepts that.  Division I players are more skilled and should be paid more.   


This is such an important topic, that it became one of my first podcasts, #7 titled “Competition and the Fallen Nature.”  In the early days of NIL, there are predictions that competition between athletic programs will develop.  Student-athletes will tend to choose to play for programs that have a more sophisticated NIL program that provides greater revenue for the athlete.  NIL athletes will choose Universities that offer better financial literacy, social media, and marketing programs.  Christian economists like competition.   

I worked in pro sports during the first 15 years of my career, then when I started teaching at DBU, I designed and taught a course in Professional Sports Management.  I gave it up because I couldn’t keep current on sports.  College athletics are not my area of research.  But I have noticed that leagues are getting quite spread out.  The Southwest Conference used to consist of 8-13 teams in Texas and Arkansas.  Many of the athletes knew each other from high school competitions, and the parents could easily drive to all the away games.  Virginia Tech is now in the Big 12.  That’s a long way for parents to drive.  The Division II conference that most of our DBU teams play in is called the Lone Star Conference.  Its 19-member schools stretch from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to Western New Mexico.  These far-flung conferences must make SOME economic sense, but they are not good for producing competitive rivalry.   

Through the new NIL endorsements, perhaps athletes will garner local endorsements from more regional enterprises like restaurants and car dealerships.  This could produce more local rivalry, which I think would return to collegiate competition that’s more exciting for the players and their fans.  


The economic definition of a cartel is “Competitors who collaborate.”  The four major professional sports leagues: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and National Football League, are by definition cartels.  Baseball gained an exemption from antitrust law in 1922, and the four leagues rely on it still today, to behave as a cartel.  The NCAA is clearly a cartel.  But, it is a voluntary one.  There are a couple of small competitors: The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and I suppose you could consider the National Christian College Athletic Association a competitor, but those are pretty small, in comparative dollar revenues.   

Antitrust is an important concept in Christian Economics, and I explain more details in podcast #89 titled, “Antitrust and the Fallen Nature.”

Private Property 

When God told Moses that the 8th commandment was “don’t steal,” he was endorsing private property.  That became one of the Ten Biblical Commandments of Economics when Sergiy Saydometov and I wrote Biblical Economic Policy.   

Athletes who perform well on the field of play should be able to benefit from their labor.  This is pretty straightforward for a Christian Economist.  Think about it: Should pitchers be required to share the Earned Run Average, or batters be forced to share their batting average?  Of course not.  They earned their performance records, and they should own them personally.  But they play on a team, and they contribute to the team’s performance.  Could the conference be considered just a larger team?  Maybe the NCAA?  When it comes to revenue, the player should own his or her own performance record, and the financial rewards that go with it.  

I unpack more details about this important topic in podcast #81, titled simply, “Private Property.”

An argument could be made that the amateur athlete has the opportunity to turn pro.  I have some experience with this, having worked for the Association of Tennis Professionals for a few years, not long after the sport went pro in 1972.  The guy I worked for, Bob Briner, went to Australia and signed up the best players to professional contracts.  He was working for Lamar Hunt at World Championship Tennis at the time.  Previous to this, pro players were locked out of the largest tournaments because they were amateur events.  The formation of the ATP forced the tournaments to open their entry to amateurs and pros, and now you know why the US Open, is called Open.   

In colonial days, there were state churches.  Some energetic Baptist pastors were disallowed from preaching in states that had state churches.  They appealed to Thomas Jefferson, who famously wrote to them, saying there should be a separation of church and state.  If I was TJ’s consultant, I might have advised him to keep the state churches.  Even though I would not have liked the social pressure to attend church, just to function in society, I would have approved of the outcome: Arthur Brooks points out in Gross National Happiness, “People who live in religious communities, even correcting for other cultural factors in these communities, do better financially than those who live in secular communities.”  Jefferson was a pretty strict supporter of freedom.  He would support NIL today, and Christian Economics does, as well. 


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