Trojan standouts lead new NIL firm for women of color

A Hot Springs Trojans logo is shown. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

Two former Hot Springs Trojan athletes are among the founders of a new branding and career development firm for collegiate athletes.

Keenan Davis, a former wide receiver for the Trojans in the 1990s, and Ayana Butler Parsons, a former Lady Trojans basketball player in the 1990s, are both involved in a new name, image and likeness licensing firm that was introduced Friday.

Davis, the CEO of the newly formed Our Name firm, said he has a history of working in sports and saw a need for women of color to be represented in the new landscape created by the new rules regarding name, image and likeness licensing.

"With this particular NIL process, you start seeing all these deals that are happening right," he said Friday. "Now you're not seeing any deals for women."

Jaden Rashada, a high school senior who has committed to the University of Miami, has a reported $9.5 million NIL contract with the university, Davis said.

"That was alarming to me, not because the kid can get that kind of money. ... There are some super, super outstanding student-athlete women that are getting absolutely nothing. I'm not talking about not getting millions; they're not getting thousands, they're not getting hundreds; these deals aren't just happening," he said.

Parsons, who went on to play for Oral Roberts University and is a national leader in executive talent and leadership development, said the firm's goal is to aid these student-athletes beyond their collegiate careers.

"Our Name is developing a sought-after pipeline of future industry leaders," she said in a news release. "Student athletes have many qualities -- discipline, resilience, collaboration, accountability, and competitive drive -- that are winning traits in leadership. I'm excited to see this type of platform designed to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in both collegiate sports and talent pipelining."

Davis said the hope for the company is to help these athletes take the next step after college, as well. Looking to the future of the company, the leadership plans to use the marketable skills of their clients to help them thrive going forward

"We know what pipeline development looks like," he said. "We know what lead talent acquisition looks like. We know what brand identity looks like. ... We've got an agency with nothing but what you already are gonna want. They've been brand ambassadors. They've been highly marketable. They're student-athletes, so they have a DNA of competitiveness, responsibility, accountability, etc. And they're college graduates."

The head of partnerships for the company is Dawn Harper-Nelson, a two-time Olympic medalist.

"We are witnessing the most freedom ever given to student-athletes and businesses to create mutually profitable partnerships," she said in the release. "We are designing a platform to help women athletes of color take full advantage of our name, image, and likeness with hopes to bring gender equity, athlete diversity, and pay balance to the NIL space."

One of the reasons the company is focusing on women of color is because it is an underserved group.

"I felt like for investors, they can see something quickly because that was a market, along with the general landscape of women athletes, that's untouched," Davis said. "No one's trying to say, 'Hey, let me represent women in this space.' But then there's also not going to be anybody saying, 'Let me represent women of color in this space.'"

The first client signed by the firm is Lauren Brown, who is a sophomore sprinter from the University of North Texas, but Davis said there are several other athletes the company is courting, including Arkansas sophomore guard Jersey Wolfenbarger.

"These ladies are super great people ... but nobody's connecting," Davis said. "Listen, Jersey's from Fort Smith. Everybody from Fort Smith knows her. Do you know how easy it is for our team, for Dawn or me or anybody, to make a phone call to a hamburger spot, a car dealership, a smoothie company in Fort Smith, that would be like, 'Oh, we'd love to name a smoothie after Jersey?'

"No one's choosing Jersey. They're choosing the quarterback at Arkansas, or the running back, No. 5, and there's nothing wrong with those guys. They don't need my help; they don't need my resources," he said.

Davis said his ultimate goal is to help others live the best lives they can, and this is one way he intends to do that.

"I live a decent life, man, I do," he said. "But what good is it for me to live a decent life if the people around me are struggling? ... That's not my America, right? That may be other peoples' America, but my America is everybody having enough to enjoy each other, to enjoy life, to experience the best that life can give and that, in this small capsule starting with my role in collegiate athletics, maybe we could just be a beacon of light to help other parts of society follow suit."