Since the NCAA adopted a uniform name, image and likeness (NIL) policy change in mid-2021, student-athletes nationwide have capitalized on numerous opportunities to partner with brands.

After years of contentious debate surrounding the issue of pay and amateurism in college sports, athletes have been able to go out and profit off their NIL, with some drawing considerable interest.

The NIL valuation of Bronny James, a combo guard at the University of Southern California and son of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, is set at $7.2 million, according to college sports and recruiting digital media company On3. Meanwhile Olivia “Livvy” Dunne, a gymnast at Louisiana State University and TikTok star, is the highest-paid female college athlete with approximately $3.5 million from her NIL deals.

Recognizing the value of partnering with popular young athletes and compensating them for their time and participation, the Department of Justice and the San Diego State University (SDSU) men’s basketball team are embarking on a unique NIL collaboration to combat illicit fentanyl use.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, San Diego City Attorney’s Office and the MESA (Mentoring and Empowering Student Athletes) Foundation debuted a social media campaign featuring all members of the SDSU men’s basketball team to promote fentanyl awareness and prevention.

Launched on National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day, the campaign is being promoted over Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Snapchat, LinkedIn and YouTube.

According to the press release announcing the partnership, the MESA Foundation, which connects SDSU student-athletes with nonprofits in the local area, is providing a stipend for their participation with the charity through their NIL.

The involvement of a college basketball team is notable as the DOJ stated this is believed to be the first NIL deal for the federal agency.

The Aztecs are coming off one of the best seasons in school history, highlighted by a memorable run in the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament culminating in a Final Four berth and loss in the national title game.

As part of the Block Fentanyl campaign, the Aztecs describe the dangers of fentanyl use and the importance of having Narcan on hand and knowing where to look in the case of an overdose. The campaign features two social media public service announcements and is supported by the hashtags #BlockFentanyl and #KnowAboutNarcan. 

“Fentanyl kills. Creates chaos. Ruins families. It doesn’t care about your race. It doesn’t care how you identify. It doesn’t care if you are addicted or just trying for the first time. Fentanyl kills,” the athletes say in the PSA.

Coinciding with the nation’s multi-decade opioid epidemic, the emergence of fentanyl as a public health threat has taken on additional importance in recent years, especially among young adults. 

A study published in JAMA in April 2022 found that the rise of fentanyl has created a spike in drug overdose deaths among high school students in the U.S. since 2019, with researchers attributing the trend to an influx counterfeit pills that look like real medicines but may contain fentanyl, which even in small doses can be lethal. 

Block Fentanyl also ties in with previous efforts by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and law enforcement to promote outreach and prevention of overdoses in the San Diego area. Earlier this month, the office held a presentation on SDSU’s campus to advise students and resident advisors about the risks associated with fentanyl.

“We are committed to innovative approaches to protect and educate the youth of our community about the extreme danger of fentanyl,” said acting U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Haden in a statement. “We are willing to do whatever it takes to save lives and spread the word that fentanyl is still claiming many lives, and every one of us can and must take action to prevent fatal overdoses. I’d like to thank the incredible SDSU student-athletes, who did not hesitate to answer our call for help. They have graciously used their celebrity and influence for the most important cause: Keeping fellow students from making a fatal mistake with fentanyl.”