On March 25th, the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled that the players on Northwestern University’s football team qualified as ‘employees’ of the school and therefore were allowed to unionize.
This is a major breakthrough in the attempts of college athletes to be recognized and be compensated for the time they put in for their sport, seeking a part of the millions of dollars being made by the schools, coaches and the NCAA.
The Northwestern football players will officially vote on the issue on April 25th to decide whether or not they want to authorize a union to represent them in collective bargaining with Northwestern University.
The College Athlete Players Association, led by President Ramogi Huma and former Northwestern quarterback Kain Cotler, is not necessarily seeking to obtain “pay-for play”, but rather advocates for needs such as guaranteeing coverage for football-related medical expenses, reducing the risk of football-related brain injury, and improving graduation rates of the football players.
We want to raise awareness, raise support and answer some questions,” Huma said in an interview. “We’re not advocating for salaries. We want coverage for injured players, concussion reform and those types of basic protections.”
“We’re not doing this for ourselves. We’re doing this for future generations,” Colter later commented, adding that if the parents of children who dream of one day playing college football “know their son will be protected from a serious head injury, that will be what we want.”
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has urged the players to vote ‘no’ to the prospect of a union, saying that there’s no need for a third party,
“All this can be handled with communication. It’s about trust,” Fitzgerald said. “I just do not believe we need a third party between our players and our coaches, staff and administrators. … Whatever they need, we will get them.”
Fitzgerald also went on to say that despite his stance he is very proud of his team for their efforts for national change,
“I’m very proud of them for trying to work for national change, I’m incredibly proud of them – I’ve been greatly outspoken about that. My job is to help educate them, my staff’s job is to help educate them, our athletic department our university, and to find other folks who can tell them what this means, potentially.”
A few former players have taken to Twitter to voice their opinion over the controversial issue.
Current Northwestern starting quarterback Trevor Siemian said that he is against the union and doesn’t want it to block his goals of a championship,
“I don’t support it. I don’t think a union is the answer for my team or my university. What’s important for this team is being able to win a Big Ten championship, and I think a union might hurt us in that goal.”
Northwestern running back Venric Mark has said that the speculation over the union doesn’t change his attitude toward team practice,
“I don’t know if people kind of knew what they were going to get into or if they thought it was going to turn out the way it did,” he said. “But at the end of the day, now it’s time to get back to work. I mean, we have a job to do.”
Mark went on to voice support for the university and all its done for the players,
“Northwestern has treated us all well and we know that. And we know that it is a privilege to be here so at the end of the day we’re all going to support our former teammate, but we also know we’re here to get a degree and we’re also here to play football.”
Personally, when I first heard of Northwestern potentially unionizing, like everyone else I assumed it was the “pay-for-play” deal that it was being made out to be. Now that I know what it’s really about, I still don’t one hundred percent support it, but it seems like a better idea than before, since it’s for a better cause than what I’d previously thought.
I think that college football players work hard and put enough time and effort into their sport that they deserve the proposed protections and medical care that they are seeking to obtain.
As for the future of college sports, I think it all depends on whether or not Northwestern elects to unionize. If they choose to unionize, then I think that other schools will be looking to unionize. If they vote against it, I think just the National Labor Relations Board giving them permission to go ahead with it is significant enough.
Just because Northwestern turned down unionization doesn’t mean that a top-tier school like Alabama or Notre Dame would turn down the same opportunity.
If other schools do choose to unionize, i just hope it all helps take down the corrupt NCAA, and possibly replace it with something more just and favorable to the players. I’m not saying players should be directly paid for their services, but the hard work and effort they put in to their sport, all the while taking a lot of time from their classes to do so, should be recognized and compensated in some way.
No matter what decision the Northwestern football team makes on unionization, just the fact that they got the green light to unionize is a historic step in the goals of college athletes to secure rights and fight back against the powers that have kept them powerless for so long. There are solid arguments for both sides of the ball, but no unions would be better because there’s ultimately no need for a third party to be involved.