Georgia’s Rachael Lukacs flashes a smile during her floor routine. The University of Georgia GymDogs hosted Iowa State and won with a final score of 197.325 - 196.625 on Jan. 20, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

On June 30, the NCAA agreed to allow college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness. The deal began a new era in college sports, one where athletes can sign endorsement deals, sell autographs and profit off of social media accounts. Some athletes are using their NIL opportunities for charitable purposes.

Georgia gymnast Rachael Lukacs is working with Iconic Leos to design her own leotard, the “Lukacs.” All the proceeds will go toward Lydia’s Place, an Athens nonprofit that helps young adults who have experienced foster care or homelessness.

“I was iffy at first with the NIL thing,” Lukacs said. “But then [I realized] how I can make an impact using my name for different organizations like Lydia’s Place.”

How it happened

Lukacs first visited Lydia’s Place last September and served as a volunteer. She stayed involved and worked closer with the organization in the summer when she had more free time without classes and gymnastics, she said.

Iconic Leos is a newer company — it officially opened in August 2021. Lukacs worked with the brand before it’s launch to make the leotard ready.

“We reached out to Rachael prior to launch,” a spokesperson from Iconic Leos said. “It was our goal that while working with Rachael, we would focus 100% on this mission to design the [leotard] she envisioned.”

Iconic Leos reached out to her because of her career at Georgia and her time spent in community service, being named to the SEC Community Service Team in 2019 and 2020. Lukacs immediately agreed to work with Lydia’s Place when presented with the opportunity, she said.

After the partnership began, Lukacs was able to help sketch the leotard based on her own experiences and formed her custom design. It is the brand’s best-selling leotard, according to a spokesperson from Iconic Leos.

Lukacs is a junior from Hillsborough, New Jersey. Because of her hometown’s proximity to the beach, she wanted to have the ocean represented. She also wanted purple to be included because it is Lydia’s Place’s main color.

“I just thought that would look super cool and then they just kept working with me to make sure that everything was on top of it, that everything was going smoothly,” Lukacs said. “They made it such an easy process to do such an impactful thing.”

Opening doors

The NCAA’s ruling has allowed Lukacs and other athletes to work with other organizations such as Lydia’s Place to donate money off NIL deals to charity organizations. Lukacs said her and her teammates have had opportunities to take advantage of the new ruling.

However, she said that athletes have to find the balance between NIL deals, athletics and focusing on school.

“That’s just where it’s gonna get a little tricky sometimes,” Lukacs said. “I think just being more on top of that, and just prioritizing what you need … it’s just about making sure you are a student athlete before NIL deals.”

Lukacs is currently the only athlete Iconic Leos works with, but the company is working toward including more athletes into its Iconic Leos Outreach Program, which works with athletes to create custom leotards and direct funds towards an organization of the gymnasts’ choice.

Iconic Leo’s will take a percentage of all the proceeds from Lukacs’ custom leotard and will later write a check toward Lydia’s Place.

“It really felt like Iconic Leo’s vision to be of service was perfectly aligned with Rachael’s desire to use her NIL with purpose,” a spokesperson from Iconic Leos said.

While gymnastics season has not started yet, gymnasts like Lukacs are already taking advantage of their ability to profit. Fellow UGA gymnast Rachel Baumann signed a deal with the Atlanta Braves, making the junior the first ever female “Braves athlete.”

Other Georgia athletes are also using their NIL deals to give back to others, including Georgia quarterback JT Daniels, who signed a deal with Everett Sports Management. As part of Daniels’ deal, he will donate half of his earnings to his teammates.

“It’s cool how they opened it up for us to be a part of things,” Lukacs said. “It helps us get more involved in the community.”

Drew Hubbard is the sports editor of The Red & Black. He is a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in journalism, minoring in sport management and pursuing the university's Sports Media Certificate.

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