Neumann-Goretti aims to help basketball players build brands

The Neumann-Goretti High School boys basketball program has a strong history of opening doors for many student-athletes to play at higher levels. Now the team is going a step further.

The Saints have entered an agreement with Pittsburgh-based Slash Athletes, which is a digital learning and skill-building platform to help student-athletes build their brands while competing in college sports. The NCAA has recently developed proposals to modernize rules to help student-athletes earn compensation from their name, image and likeness. Currently, college athletes are forbidden to make money off of their own names and brands, but that is expected to change. The NCAA is expected to have the new changes to Name Image Likeness go in effect for the 2021-22 school year, which has schools at all levels preparing for life-changing opportunities.

Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale and his staff have anticipated these changes coming, and the Saints jumped at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor to help educate their athletes on what may be ahead. The Saints have placed more than 30 players on Division I schools under Arrigale, and many more have played at Division II and III schools.

Arrigale said he sees it as an opportunity for his athletes “to gain a competitive edge for when they do go to college by learning how to build positive brands.”

Although Slash Athletes is officially only a month old, its CEO Jordon Rooney formed deep roots helping student-athletes understand how to build brands. Rooney created the nonprofit Never Fear Being Different, which hosts an annual high school football all-star game, among other ventures. His VlogU is known as the first social media marketing agency run by high school students. The program teaches digital literacy, effective online leadership and career development. His new company aims to help athletes understand brand development, effective online leadership and digital economy career development, which can be helpful tools for college athletes to utilize.

“My nonprofit has an all-star football game where we have been providing workshops for athletes on building their brands and being better digital leaders,” Rooney said. “We’ve kind of always done stuff like this with high school athletes.”

Despite Slash focusing mostly on colleges, Neumann-Goretti assistant coach John Brennan reached out to Rooney to bring that expertise to his high school basketball players. The Saints are now the first high school in the county to form such a partnership.

“I reached out to see how he’s going to use his company with different NCAA athletic programs,” Brennan said. “It evolved into a conversation about Neumann-Goretti basketball and how we could work together on the education side to front-load our guys with everything they will need moving forward not only to be able to take part in the Name Image Likeness process, but also I think his curriculum offers a lot of knowledge and oversight into different things they can do to be better on social media — not just showcase themselves as athletes, but multi-facet individuals that they are, but show they have other interests and diversify.”

Some college athletes will make serious money once the rules go in place. Others might find ways to supplement the cost of school expenses, since most athletes can’t work a part-time job due to demanding school and athletic schedules.

“You don’t necessarily have to be the greatest athlete,” Brennan said. “Sometimes these kids have YouTube channels and TikTok followings and get thousands and thousands of views. Even if you are on a small Division II or Division III campus, sometimes the campus settings lend themselves to local businesses and sometimes those businesses might want to drive their product with the help of a student-athlete. Kids now have huge networks and followings in high school and in college. Some already have 10,000 followers on social media. How great would it be to go to a local business and ask what they would pay to have their message broadcast to 10,000 people?”

Work has already started, as Slash and the Saints have begun communicating through Zoom calls. Open office hours will be available to the athletes as well as more than 50 online courses to understand brand-building through clothing lines and podcasts. Other topics include digital literacy, how to handle hate and negativity online and tips to become an athlete activist.

Although high school students cannot monetize brands, the new partnership aims to help students understand what lies ahead.

“We have to focus on educating them,” Rooney said. “We’re not looking at this as, ‘Hey, go out and make money right away.’ We view it as, we live in an attention economy and athletes have attention, and you can see how building a brand can provide you some leverage and give you access to networking resources, no matter where you live.”

The Saints see it as another powerful voice in the locker room that can help impressionable teenagers.

“It gives them new insight,” Brennan said. “They hear (the coaches’) voices all the time, so sometimes it’s good to bring in another perspective and another voice to be able to engage them in a different way.”