For Washington athletes. By Washington athletes.
The concept is simple.
The landscape surrounding "name, image and likeness" is anything but.
On Friday, a group of former UW athletes unveiled the 1861 NIL Foundation — designed to provide NIL opportunities and education, while connecting fans and businesses with Husky athletes. It's spearheaded by executive director Catherine Clark and a board featuring four former Husky football players: Steve Emtman, Mario Bailey, Will Dissly and Lawyer Milloy.
(The name refers to the University of Washington's founding in 1861, though the foundation is technically unaffiliated with UW Athletics.)
Clark was a Washington swimmer from 1981 to 1985 and has practiced law locally for three-plus decades since.
Which makes her uniquely qualified — and motivated — to navigate the murky waters of NIL.
"You may wonder why I'm so committed to this," Clark said last week. "I don't come from a stable family background. My athletic scholarship was my way out. It provided me my own life and my own power and my own money and I got away from something that was really difficult for me.
"So I really want to make sure that what happened for me is there for other kids like me. Every athletic department has kids like me that are not five-star quarterbacks, that are just people who need a way out and need a positive way to do it. I think athletics are a great way to do it."
But what will the 1861 NIL Foundation actually do?
"NIL," for the unaware, encompasses an athlete's ability to profit via autograph sales, sponsored social media posts, personal streaming channels, training lessons/camps, speaking engagements, personal merchandising, endorsement deals and more.
And while their umbrella includes opportunities for merchandising, branding, speaking engagements and other events, the foundation's focus is on organizing youth camps for Husky athletes to oversee. Because of the educational aspect — UW athletes learning about brand-building, marketing and community service, while camp-goers learn the techniques and fundamentals of a given sport — the 1861 NIL Foundation is a 501(c)(3) federally recognized non-profit, which allows for tax deductible donations from Husky fans.
The idea was sparked by UW's Devin Culp, Carson Bruener and Sam Huard each successfully holding camps at their high school alma maters last summer.
Now, their scope is expanding to the state's borders — and beyond.
"For us to create the 1861 [NIL Foundation] to have outreach and produce camps across the state of Washington, in places where these players are coming from already, to show that you can go and play for a great college at UW and give an opportunity for these guys to feel what it's like to give back to their communities, I think it's a really powerful tool," said Dissly, the fifth-year Seahawks tight end.
"I'm beyond excited to back the 1861 NIL Foundation. I think a lot of people are going to be drawn to it, because it's not just greasing pockets. These kids are gaining experience. They're learning how to give back to their community, to give their time."
The foundation — which Clark jokingly dubbed 'The Roadshow' — hopes to bring camps to Husky hometowns both inside and out of the state of Washington. She raised the possibility, for example, of Las Vegas products Rome Odunze and Edefuan Ulofoshio someday running a camp from their own alma mater — national powerhouse Bishop Gorman High.
It's that scope — the geographic reach — that distinguishes the 1861 NIL Foundation from its prospective partners.
"Here's how we look at it: we will partner with anybody. But what we are really looking at is casting a wider net beyond King County," Clark said. "Given how [existing UW nonprofit NIL organization] Montlake Futures is staffed and what they can handle, this is a space they can't fill. We've talked to them about it. We've got meetings scheduled with them. We are not seeking to unseat anybody here. We just see the NIL space as this vast place for opportunity."
And, it appears, there's ample opportunity to go around. Clark added that "it's not competition [with Montlake Futures]. It's complementary. They do what they do, and we're going to do 'the road show.'"
The goal is to connect the state through camps ... and connect the program's past and present in the process.
"I just feel like it's a great opportunity to help our players in the program that I love so much," said Bailey, UW's career leader in receiving touchdowns (30). "Any time you can help the players in whatever aspect of their life and their journey, it's a wonderful thing. Of course, I wish we had NIL when I was playing. But the more help you can get along the journey, the better it is. So for us to be able to help in any way is just a great opportunity."
Added Emtman, a College Football Hall of Famer and the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NFL draft, in a written release: "I would have been all over this if I had this opportunity back when I played. Can you imagine where our current and future Huskies will go? I can't wait to see it."
Fans feel the same way about Washington's upcoming season — considering Michael Penix Jr., Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Bralen Trice, Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Troy Fautanu and Tuli Letuligasenoa's simultaneous returns. And while the opportunity to deliver UW its third national title in 2023 was obviously a motivating factor, NIL undoubtedly played a part as well.
According to Dissly, it's overdue.
"I'm not going to lie: Seattle's not a cheap place to live," Dissly said Wednesday. "I'm not a trust fund baby, so there were days when I was bumming a few bucks from teammates to buy tacos, waiting for that next check to hit.