Ed O’Bannon, Shawne Alston, Johnny Manziel, and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) Part 1

2 min readMar 11, 2021


I am a HUGE fan of Ed O’Bannon — amazing player, and even more so as a plaintiff.

I choose not to go into all the details, especially since I’m not a lawyer — you can read a brief history of cases here:


The real crux of the argument is a person’s right (such as an athlete) to their own name, image, likeness (NIL), and their ability to generate revenue from a product they created — namely, themselves. IMHO, athletes are forced to sell their souls very early on.

The argument that the NCAA had, in short, is that they gave an education to an athlete in exchange for their participation in a college sports platform provided by the university.

The problem is that college sports is an oligopoly where there is no pricing mechanism. Athletes like O’Bannon can’t go to a competing school and get a higher price for his/her NIL and athletic abilities. “Forced by market structure” to accept a bad business deal at every school, the athlete chooses UCLA, hoping a high profile school launchpads into the next level at the NBA. Meanwhile, UCLA makes tons of money off of his/her NIL.

Historically, sports entities have generated BILLIONS of dollars in revenue from the NILs of athletes. In 2014, Tom Farrey (Senior Reporter for ESPN at the time) reported that college athletes had finalized a $40 million settlement with a video game manufacturer and the NCAA’s licensing arm (EA and the Collegiate Licensing Corporation) for improperly using the likenesses of athletes. The following year, the NCAA was left alone to defend itself in the upcoming Ed O’Bannon antitrust trial.

So what does this have to do with Shawne Alston, Johnny Manziel, and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)? I’m thinking that student athletes (especially high school and middle school) gain more control through a different platform — that’s Part 2 tomorrow.

Full disclosure: the author wishes he owned NFTs of Ed O’Bannon.

Edward Kim is co-founder and General Partner at 3LA Ventures. You can contact him at ed@3lavc.com

March 11, 2021