The new superstars: San Diego’s Dexcom signs 14 college athletes with diabetes

Bryce Frederick of Towson State University.
Bryce Frederick of Towson State University is sharing his diabetes story through a program with San Diego’s Dexcom.
(Courtesy of Dexcom)

Dexcom’s program spotlights college athletes with diabetes to inspire others living with the disease to keep playing sports


A few months before his final high school baseball season, Bryce Frederick had a blood test as part of a routine physical.

It came back positive for biomarkers that signal the onset of Type 1 diabetes — a jolting diagnosis for the senior who had committed to play baseball in college and had no symptoms.

“I went to work out with my trainer ... My dad beat me there and said you’re not working out today. We need to talk for a minute,” recalled Frederick of the day he got the news. “My first thought was somebody in the family had passed.”

The diagnosis sent Frederick on a mission to learn as much as he could about diabetes — including finding other athletes with Type 1 — to better understand his future in sports.

Four years later, Frederick, a utility infielder/outfielder at Towson University in Maryland, is sharing his own diabetes story through a sponsorship with San Diego’s Dexcom, a top maker of continuous glucose monitors.

He is a member of Dexcom U under an NCAA program dubbed name, image, likeness, or NIL. It’s the first NIL arrangement for diabetic athletes since the NCAA loosened its amateurism policy more than a year ago so college players can receive compensation for promotional campaigns without losing eligibility.

Fourteen athletes from universities across the country make up the inaugural Dexcom U team. They compete in 11 sports ranging from football to wrestling, basketball to lacrosse, track to volleyball. ESPN broadcaster Adam Schefter helped officially launch the Dexcom U program last month. His wife was diagnosed with diabetes in 2002.

Dexcom U highlights an evolution taking place around NIL deals for student-athletes. While seven-figure signings of top football and basketball prospects grab headlines, NIL benefits appear to be trickling down more broadly across lesser-known sports — fueled by in-kind product agreements, group sponsorships and micro-influencer campaigns.

“It was intended for those superstars to let them make some money, but we are realizing that pretty much every athlete has value in NIL. It just varies a lot,” said Thilo Kunkel, an associate professor and director of the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University. “I think we are seeing more and more of these athletes that have less value also getting a piece of the cake — albeit a small piece — but still a piece of the cake.”

The inaugural Dexcom U Team
(Courtesy of Dexcom)

Dexcom, citing a recent company-sponsored survey, says 43 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes feel like quitting sports and physical activities after their diagnosis. The same survey found 50 percent of people felt that their coaches, trainers and teachers treated them differently after learning of their Type 1 diagnosis.

Frederick knows that anxiety. Connecting with other athletes with Type 1 who compete at a high level inspired him to keep going after his own diagnosis.

“Just knowing you are in a community really helps out,” he said. “It shows you there aren’t any barriers.”

Now Frederick aims to pay it forward through Dexcom U, sharing everything from how he monitors glucose levels during games to the frustrations of training with diabetes, particularly around diet.

“I have gotten direct messages from young baseball players all over the country asking for this advice or that advice,” said Frederick, who is studying leadership and management. “I respond to as many of those as I possibly can because that is what this is — me sharing my story to make other people comfortable about what they are dealing with.”

Dexcom has long partnered with celebrities to promote its continuous glucose monitoring — including Nick Jonas, Patti LaBelle, Jordan Morris of the U.S. Men’s National Team in soccer and Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews.

While the company pays luminaries for promotional work, Dexcom U is different. It’s an offshoot of Dexcom Warriors — a group of 20,000 fans of the technology who support Dexcom in their communities free of charge.

So Dexcom U doesn’t put money directly in the pockets of college athletes, said Chief Executive Kevin Sayer. The base agreement is an in-kind contract. Dexcom makes sure athletes have access to its wearable glucose monitors and consumable sensors, though health insurance often covers that cost.

In exchange, the athletes use the Dexcom U platform to share their stories, inspire young athletes with diabetes and promote the company’s wearable glucose monitors as a key tool to track their blood sugar during games and training.

“There may be some payment if somebody needs it, but that isn’t the purpose of the program,” said Sayer. “The idea is to give them a more visible platform to tell people about their diabetes. Our primary goal is to increase awareness in the community and show how great these kids are.”

Dexcom also provides educational resources for parents, teachers, coaches and fellow athletes as part of Dexcom U, including information on how different types of exercise can impact glucose levels, what symptoms to watch out for and what steps to take if blood sugar gets too high or too low.

Marlee Fray just wrapped up her redshirt junior year as a forward on the University of Texas at San Antonio women’s soccer team, which made the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history.

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was about 3 years old, Fray rebelled against the dietary regime for diabetics as a middle schooler and into high school.

“I got to the point where I was perfectly good playing on the soccer field at 300 or 400” blood sugar levels, she said. “I realize now that was very bad. I just remember not caring in that teenage phase — all the long conversations I had in doctor’s offices and my mom telling me, and everybody telling me, what I needed to do, and I just didn’t want to do it.”

As she became serious about playing soccer in college, she got better about monitoring her blood sugar. But she admittedly wasn’t great at managing what she ate.

“When I got into college, it got really hard because the level of soccer that I was going into, my body wasn’t ready for that because I didn’t get it ready with my diabetes,” she said.

Marlee Fray of University of Texas at San Antonio
(Courtesy of Dexcom)

She worked with trainers and doctors to get her body right. When she transferred from the University of Central Florida to UTSA, her blood sugar program was refined even more.

Fray, a psychology major who hopes to play soccer professionally, said she feels much better now. She has been using Dexcom glucose monitors since high school, and she reached out to the company about NIL opportunities.

As she dug into the Dexcom U program, she liked that it wasn’t simply about posting pictures on social media here and there in exchange for monitors and sensors.

“They were like we want you to be an ambassador for kids,” she said. “We want you to share your story. We want to be the face and let young kids know that they also can do what you are doing.”

Fray has seen an uptick in her social media followers lately, many of whom are young women athletes with Type 1 diabetes. She comments and likes their posts, and she has received a few direct messages with questions.

“You are building your brand, but I also am doing something that I like to do and sharing my life on a daily basis,” she said. “It helps people see me other than just a soccer player.”

Dexcom U sits at the intersection of common NIL themes but with some unusual wrinkles, said Kunkel, the Temple University professor who researches athlete brand management and monetization.

For example, in-kind product agreements, not cash deals, are becoming the norm for many NIL sponsorships, he said.

“We hear about the $1 million deals, and they are great. But they are few and far between. A majority of deals are less than $1,000 and often contain free product,” he said.

In addition, group sponsorships are an emerging trend. Michigan State basketball and football players received a group NIL that is independent of individual stardom or social media following, said Kunkel. So have female athletes at BYU.

What makes Dexcom U different is its group of athletes spans multiple universities and is linked to a cause that is close to their hearts, he said

It’s also kicked off with a national media campaign — putting the names of these 14 players in the public spotlight.

“There certainly is an angle here on how the athletes can position themselves as experts in this area,” he said. “Having diabetes and being in this unique situation can position them for other sponsorship deals in the future related to the cause.”

It also might lead to offers for paid services from parents and athletes in the diabetes community, said Kunkel.

“If I am a parent, I might want to reach out to one of these athletes and say ‘You play volleyball. My kid also plays volleyball and has diabetes. Are you interested in writing a nutrition plan? Are you interested in some online teaching or online training opportunities?’”

Bryce Frederick on the baseball field
(Courtesy of Dexcom)

For Frederick, the potential to tap into other streams of income online aren’t lost on him. He sees NILs as an “incredible opportunity” for college athletes in non-marquee sports like field hockey, lacrosse, baseball and volleyball.

But for now, that’s not his motivation.

“It is really just spreading awareness and influencing people,” he said “I get out of that the fulfillment of having people look at me and say that is somebody I can try to emulate.”