In 2017, Dallas Hobbs, blissfully unaware of the world he was entering and merely grateful for an opportunity to play big-time college football on a full-ride scholarship, jumped onto what the Washington State defensive lineman now describes as the “conveyor belt.”
The conveyor belt analogy came last summer from one of Hobbs’ peers – he can’t remember who birthed it – when a group of change-seeking college football players banded together to form the athlete-led “#WeAreUnited” group. The analogy depicts the journey, and in some ways the mindset, of average college athletes.
“The best term we had on it, it’s a conveyor belt,” Hobbs said. “You hop on the conveyor belt, you just do your work, you do your sports, your academics, you don’t really notice it.”
“It” being the perceived exploitation of student-athletes in the multibillion-dollar industry known as college athletics.
“You keep going by, you’re seeing it all and you get to the point where you finally fall off it and that’s like the end of college sports,” Hobbs said. “That’s when you realize, ‘Dang, I wish I would’ve made a difference back then.’ But you don’t have the platform you have anymore, you don’t have as much movement you can make in a way.
“So, if people can start noticing it earlier, it helps make an impact, and I think it’s something we saw in the last year.”
When Hobbs drops off the conveyor belt in two years, there won’t be too many regrets. Tens of thousands of athletes across the country can now capitalize from their name, image and likeness, but few were in the thick of the movement that made it happen. Hobbs, meanwhile, was on the front lines.
Around this time last year, Hobbs was creating the symbol of the “#WeAreUnited” movement – a simple but powerful graphic that Hobbs cranked out in 20 minutes from the bedroom of his Pullman home. Hobbs’ artwork was first shared by then-Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, recently the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft, and has been retweeted more than 13,700 times since.
The group raised concerns about playing a college football season during the COVID-19 pandemic and implored the NCAA to take a serious look at racial injustice in college sports. But the fifth subhead, at the bottom of a Players Tribune article, focused on “economic freedom and equity” and specific items such as “name, image and likeness rights and representation” along with “fair market pay, rights and freedoms.”
Hobbs’ involvement didn’t stop with a graphic.
“It’s been pretty crazy, not something I thought I would be really this heavily involved with a year ago, and just been really pushing,” Hobbs said. “Once I started to get into it, really about a year ago I got into it, I couldn’t stop.
“At the time I didn’t really think anything was going to happen for this generation of athletes. We were really pushing for the next generation of athletes.”
College athletes celebrated a watershed moment earlier this week when the NCAA announced governance bodies in all three divisions would adopt an interim policy suspending name, image, likeness rules for current and incoming athletes.
On June 9, at a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C., Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) named Hobbs and noted his involvement in the Pac-12’s player movement while pressing the NCAA to allow athletes to monetize from their name, image and likeness.
“It’s so important for us to listen to the voices that have made so many of these points clear,” Cantwell said. “Dallas Hobbs, a football player at Washington State University, called action to inadequate COVID protections and formed a group of unity with Pac-12 players.”
Hobbs followed up with a written testimony that emphasized racial inequality, inequity in women’s sports, health and safety and, of course, NIL. The fifth-year defensive lineman, who’s started in 11 career games for the Cougars, was invited to an athlete testimony in Washington, D.C., but he’d already committed to attending the wedding of ex-WSU kicker Blake Mazza in Mexico.
“I think it’s going to be something very beautiful,” Hobbs said of NIL. “Not only can these younger athletes look up to us as athletes on the field but outside of our sports, musicians, graphic designers, business people. It brings a whole other side of things that we can be role models. That’s why I think NIL’s so huge, because it’s going to show just how different athletes are, how younger athletes can look up to us and how fans can see us as something other than an athlete.”
A graphic design whiz who obtained his undergraduate degree in digital technology and culture, WSU’s defensive tackle has compiled many of his favorite pieces into an Instagram portfolio called “Hobbs Designs.” Although anyone can view the page and reach out to Hobbs if they have a project in mind, NCAA rules have always prohibited him from actively promoting his work.
“A lot of things are restricted in what I can and can’t do, what I can and can’t say,” Hobbs said. “It’s hard for being a freelance designer and wanting to put your portfolio out there, wanting to put your work out there, saying you’re open to do stuff. It’s been tough.”
Hobbs’ designs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Iowa native’s interests away from the field. He has a photography page with more than 1,300 followers, co-hosts two podcasts and, when the time allows, helps tutor students pursing degrees in digital technology and culture. When the 2021 season ends, he hopes to get the ball rolling on another project on which he’s passionate.
“The idea around of it is to create some kind of funding to help more athletes, younger athletes get into sports,” Hobbs said. “I know I was lucky myself, I had my grandma who was able to pay for camps, able to pay for shoes, able to pay for travel, all that stuff when my parents really couldn’t. … Figuring out a foundation from that side of things, because we can use our platform now and I believe that’s something we can do.”
Hobbs also hinted at the launch of a Spokane-based business he hopes to announce once he gets clearance from WSU’s compliance department.
Some of Hobbs’ WSU teammates are involved in different ventures that could explode with the introduction of new NIL laws.
Offensive lineman Syr Riley runs a food company, “Syr’s Signature Creations,” making cheesecake and various dinner items for fixed prices.
Wide receiver Jasiah Richard-Lewis, a first-year walk-on, may own the most-followed social media account of anyone on his team, with more than 672,800 followers on the increasingly popular platform TikTok.
As a redshirt senior who will have gone through six college football seasons by the time his eligibility runs out, Hobbs’ ride can best be described as enlightening. NIL issues were a foreign language to Hobbs when he embarked on his college football career. Now, three years later, he finds himself entrenched in the movement that’s changing the game for NCAA athletes nationwide.
“That’s something that shouldn’t have been restricted. That’s something that everyone can agree on,” Hobbs said. “It’s not really hurting anybody. NIL’s going to benefit everyone, whatever stage you’re on. There’s a whole different side of things where it’s going to be sponsorships, that side. Business opening up or small camps that people can host where you’re making a little bit of money.
“There’s a lot to it and that’s why NIL is something that should’ve never been frowned upon.”
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