Thomas partners with Temple to introduce protections for Philly youth athletes

City Councilman Isaiah Thomas’ passion for mentorship cultivated a partnership between Philadelphia and Beasley School of Law to serve high school students navigating NIL.

Philadelphia City Councilman Isaiah Thomas introduced the NIL Youth Protection Bill and has been one of its biggest advocates. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Isaiah Thomas has loved basketball nearly his entire life. The Philadelphia City Councilman grew up playing the game in Philadelphia and joined Frankford High School’s team with one of his childhood friends, Marvin Kilgore. Although Thomas’ career ended in high school, Kilgore played Division-I ball at East Carolina and UTEP, and the pair kept in touch.

Kilgore came back to the City of Brotherly Love and started the Marvin Kilgore Basketball Camp, and asked Thomas to become a counselor in the summer of 2010. Thomas wasn’t sure what to expect but took the opportunity anyway, hoping to pass his love of basketball to younger generations.

Thomas was hooked on coaching after that summer, and working with Kilgore sparked his passion to help kids through basketball.

“I wanted to go watch [Kilgore’s] camp and volunteer,” Thomas said. “His camp inspired me to do the same thing. It showed me how many young people need quality mentoring and free programming.”

Thomas did just that; he partnered with his longtime friend Chris Woods to create the Thomas and Woods Foundation basketball camp in 2012 while also working his way to a Philadelphia City Council at-large seat. Thomas won a seat in 2019 after losing four years earlier, and used his platform to help high school student-athletes throughout the city.

Thomas has now found an even bigger initiative to help student-athletes. Thomas and Temple’s Beasley School of Law announced on Jan. 24 the first public-private partnership of its kind: a hotline for student-athletes to get legal advice about Name, Image and Likeness transactions. Thomas also introduced an “NIL Youth Protection Bill,” which was originally pocket vetoed by former mayor Jim Kenney and is expected to be unanimously approved by City Council on March 7.

“I am grateful to my colleagues in the Education committee, who unanimously passed my Youth NIL Protection Bill out of Committee for a second time,” Thomas wrote in a statement to The Temple News. “I am proud to have the support of my Council colleagues and the new administration, who share my gratitude of Temple Law for providing the infrastructure to educate our city’s young people about this ambiguous and confusing aspect of their athletic careers.”

The people behind the hotline want the project to serve the student-athletes of Philly by assisting with any questions or concerns. While the process wasn’t always clear, Thomas’ passion was, and his partnership with Beasley has provided much-needed protection for the city’s youth.


When Thomas’ playing career ended, he decided to transition from the court to the sidelines. The North Philadelphia native found a job as a coach at Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School in East Kensington and later became the associate dean of students.

Aside from coaching, Thomas sits on the District XII board of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs high school sports for the state. Thomas uses his passion for being a role model to reach his players through sport, which also impacts his city council position.

“I love using basketball as an example,” Thomas said. “It teaches you life lessons, skills and a certain level of discipline that young people can carry with them as they transition into adulthood.”

The Supreme Court legalized college athletes profiting off their name, image and likeness in June 2021, forcing the NCAA to adopt an interim policy later that month. PIAA regulations later allowed students to sign deals, but coaches and schools could not aid or guide these students as they received offers, according to the PIAA Constitution and Bylaws.

The restrictions force coaches and mentors, like Thomas, out of the equation. Many high school student-athletes don’t have the means for proper NIL law education and are forced to fend for themselves, being left vulnerable to predatory contracts.

“At the end of the day, when you’re looking at what an NIL opportunity presents, there’s plenty of them,” Thomas said. “But when you think about the possibility of predatory behavior, where young people can be taken advantage of because they might not have support, who does the student go to if they are living in poverty to get some type of support when a contract is put in front of them?”

Thomas came up with a plan: create a bill that helps these student-athletes stay protected from harmful deals and stay educated about new developments in the law. He introduced his “Youth Protection Bill” during a November 2022 City Council session, and his plans caught the attention of students and faculty members at Temple.


Temple law professor Ken Jacobsen was first introduced to Thomas’ plan at the beginning of 2023. Jacobsen teaches two sports law classes while also running a law firm and marketing agency, and Beasley Dean Rachel Rebouché thought he’d be perfect for Thomas’ idea.

Jacobsen recognized NIL opened up avenues for students to make money without losing eligibility, but he also saw there were plenty of risks without guidance. He viewed the landscape as “the Wild West” due to its novelty and how people were willing to take advantage of  athletes looking to jump at an opportunity.

“The problem is where there’s money, there’s abuse, and there are people that are willing to take advantage of athletes,” Jacobsen said. “You have people who want to sign athletes to deals, but if you don’t read the fine print, they’re signing away their rights for their lifetime.”

Thomas and Jacobsen instantly hit it off, and their partnership blossomed. Temple fully funded Thomas’ Youth Protection bill from the start, saving taxpayers from spending extra money in the process. Thomas jumped at the chance to keep his idea alive without charging taxpayers.

The hotline was introduced in a press conference on Jan. 25 and provides Philadelphia’s high school student-athletes assistance with NIL deals and information. A Beasley student will answer calls on the hotline at any time of day and offer insight on the issue. Jacobsen or another board-certified lawyer also provides assistance if more expertise is needed.

Khaaliq Van-Otoo is one of the Temple law students handpicked by Jacobsen to help run the hotline. The pair connected through a class Jacobsen taught last year and Jacobson let Van-Otoo know there was a possible job opportunity.

“I met with him probably twice this year before the application process opened up,” said Van-Otoo, a second-year law student. “I was really interested personally, in starting an NIL clinic here at Temple and just talking to him about what that would look. [Jacobsen] told me there would be some opportunities coming up, this was one of them.”

City Council unanimously approved Thomas’ proposal on Dec. 14 and seemingly solidified Temple’s involvement in the process. The bill provided protections for high school student-athletes from harmful deals while also creating scholarship opportunities and education programs.

“How do we warn athletes about the bad deals, but also how do we educate them on how to go out and get them?” Jacobsen said. “You read about the big deals, but there are smaller deals to be had. You’re not going to buy a new Lamborghini, but if you can get a couple-hundred dollars from promoting a pizza shop or an auto dealership or something like that, then how do you go about doing that?”

The bill seemed all but official as the year came to a close, but Kenney failed to sign the bill into law before leaving office on Dec. 31, 2023, because he “misunderstood” who would cover the costs in the bill, Thomas said. The ruling came abruptly without warning or indication from the former mayor himself, but the pocket veto proved to be just another obstacle to overcome. 

The NIL Youth Protection bill will be officially signed into law once approved by current Mayor Cherelle Parker.


The rollout of the hotline has been purposefully slow, as Jacobsen wants to be patient with the project since legislation has yet to be signed into law. Van-Otoo checks the hotline every morning and hasn’t received many calls yet, but Jacobsen expects to be much busier if Parker signs the bill. 

The partnership has still gained traction in person despite the lack of hotline calls. Jacobsen was invited by the Philadelphia School District’s athletic director Jimmy Lynch to speak about NIL to the athletic directors of the public and charter schools in the district on Jan. 20. 

Those meetings opened Jacobsen’s eyes to the needs of student-athletes outside of what the hotline initially offered. Beasley students will now not only provide access online and through the hotline, but will go to schools so the student-athletes can talk to them in person.

“That’s the part that I’m most excited about, the hotline opens up those relationships,” Van-Otoo said. “I’m most excited about going into the schools because a lot of times with this kind of work, people don’t know what they don’t know. The school sessions will be fun to just be able to break down those barriers.” 

Athletic directors mentioned how important the hotline’s perspective on NIL was, but they also had questions about the National Letter of Intent after Jacobsen’s presentation on the subject. Some view the NLI as just a piece of paper, but their conversations have shown both Temple Law and Thomas they need to provide more information about recruitment and commitment letters.

Jacobsen has since incorporated the NLI piece into his work, and believes it’s just as important as the NIL information when trying to stay within the NCAA regulations.

“I think that NIL and NLI can work in parallel,” Jacobsen said. “I would go into a school and we would have a group and we would have a session. In the first part of the session, we’re going to talk about NIL and talk about the risks, the rewards and what to watch out for. Then immediately morph into the NLI piece and do something very similar.”

Philadelphia is the first city to have its public city law school and government partner up for these kinds of conversations. The hope is this is the first domino to fall and other cities will see what is happening and try to replicate it.

“We’re hoping that we have a model that other areas can essentially replicate, to make sure that the most vulnerable student-athletes are essentially protected.” Thomas said. “We just appreciate Temple for stepping up to the plate and saying this is something that they want to be a part of.”

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