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Who knew McKenzie Milton was moving up to Tallassee to become an influential political lobbyist who successfully persuades and pressures our state lawmakers?
Milton, the beloved former UCF quarterback who transferred to Florida State a few months ago to compete for the Seminoles’ starting quarterback job, was the most powerful voice of all in convincing state politicians to reverse course and reinstate July as the start date for allowing college athletes to make endorsement money on their name, image and likeness (NIL).
The 11th-hour move in the State Legislature came Friday when Republican lawmakers acquiesced to intense backlash from Milton, Miami quarterback D’Eriq King and Florida’s top college football coaches after the senate passed a charter school bill last Wednesday. It just so happened that one of our sneaky politicians stuck an unrelated, surprise amendment deep inside the charter school bill that delayed the implementation of Florida’s groundbreaking NIL law from July of this year until July 2022.
Florida was one of the first states to pass a law allowing college athletes to profit off their NIL, which is why it was so shocking that state Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, buried the three-line NIL delay amendment deep inside the charter school bill.
Milton was having none of Hutson’s shameless, clandestine, backroom politicking and immediately began rallying his own political constituency. He took to social media and urged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to get involved and tweeted the following message to influential state representative Chris Latvala: “As Education Chairman @ChrisLatvala and a fellow UCF alumni, I am calling on you to make this right and get this fixed. You can be the hero to thousands of athletes in this great state!”
Milton also highlighted and tweeted out a photo of Hutson’s three-line amendment, which had a black line through “July 1, 2021” with the addendum “July 1, 2022.” Above the photo, was Milton’s message: “Are we serious right now?? That little black line in a bill with more than 70 pages to continue to screw all these athletes?? Make it make sense.”
He added in another tweet: “So when will the time actually come that college athletes can truly use their OWN name to help benefit themselves and their loved ones, not just the NCAA & universities ... It’s comical at this point. Let the kids play & let the kids get PAYED.”
Milton, who suffered a horrific, career-threatening knee injury more than two years ago when he quarterbacked UCF and was only recently cleared to play again, also tweeted out: “For those that try to justify ‘free education’ as a way to stand against NIL laws being passed are part of the issue. The NCAA really helped out when it came to paying for 9 knee surgeries and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills...oh wait”
FSU coach Mike Norvell, Florida coach Dan Mullen, UCF coach Gus Malzahn and Miami coach Manny Diaz also got involved and put pressure on state lawmakers. Tweeted Mullen: “The state of Florida needs to enact NIL legislation in 2021, as was originally planned. We need to do what’s best for our student-athletes.”
I’m not saying college football coaches aren’t being completely genuine, but you have to admit it is sort of comical how quickly they have all jumped on the NIL bandwagon. Of course, what choice do they really have? It’s either support NIL legislation or never, ever get another big-time recruit. It wasn’t that long ago when Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he’d find something else to do if college athletes ever got paid, but now he, too, is squarely on board the NIL Express.
But I digress.
Back to Milton, whose passionate social media posts were referenced Friday on the floor of the state Capitol as legislators scrambled to restore the initial start date of Florida’s pioneering NIL legislation. Milton, the player adoringly nicknamed KZ by UCF fans, epitomizes how college athletes are using their voices and their platforms like never before.
It used to be college football players were often muzzled by old-school coaches (remember when former FSU coach Jimbo Fisher used to ban his players from social media during the season), but such gag orders would never fly with today’s empowered college athletes.
It was pretty powerful seeing Milton and other college players, coaches and fans recoiling when they got an eye-opening lesson on how shady and arbitrary our political process really is.
For instance, can anybody explain why the NIL legislation and the controversial banning of transgender females from competing in girls’ and women’s sports were both crammed into the charter school bill? Seriously, what do college athletes making money or transgender females playing sports have to do with charter schools?
Or can anybody explain why Sen. Hutson wanted to delay the NIL start date in the first place? He claims it was because he didn’t want any Florida schools or athletes to face punishment if the NCAA decided to enforce its rules that conflict with the new state law. However, that claim seems dubious considering NCAA president Mark Emmert already had gone on record and said he would not punish athletes who earn NIL compensation by following their state law.
The only reasonable explanation for Hutson’s inexplicable maneuver is that there was probably some lobbyist somewhere whom Hutson was trying to appease.
As it turns out, McKenzie Milton was a much more powerful lobbyist.
Just like he used to do when he quarterbacked the UCF Knights, KZ was there to save the day and win the game.
We’ve always known he was a great playmaker on the field, but who knew he was such persuasive policymaker off it?
This column first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2