Players on the University of Northwestern Football team, made history today by beginning the process to form the first collegiate player labor union. This action, which has been a long time coming, is the result of several years of tension mounting between the NCAA and it’s so called student athletes.
Former Northwestern Quarterback Kain Colter is leading the charge for the union cause. The demands that the players are making are very reasonable; according to Colter, they all stem from wanting a unified voice to speak on the player’s behalf. Many of the demands are concerning the health and safety of players. Independent concussion doctors on the sidelines, as well as money set aside for players who are injured while participating in sports related activities, are two of the accommodations requested. Colter and his comrades are also calling for a loosening of the transfer requirements for players.
Due process for players who have their scholarships removed for medical or other reasons, is a priority to the union. Player salaries are not part of the agenda at this time.
These concerns are not unlike those of the professional ranks, and in a sign of unity the NFL Players association came out in support of the movement. In addition, the United Steelworker’s are also in support of the new college player union. The Northwestern players filed a petition at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago on Tuesday.
By law, to file a petition to form a union, an organization must have at least thirty percent of its members in favor of it. Though Colter would not specify any names, he acknowledged that an “overwhelming majority” of the Northwestern players were in favor of the movement.
But will all of this support allow these Northwestern players to make history? The NCAA does not believe so — they expressed their view on Tuesday– when they released a statement assuring that the NLRB would rule in their favor. According to the NCAA, making a student an employee detracts from the genuine purpose of college: Obtaining an education. Participation in college sports, is voluntary.
Ramogi Huma, President and Founder of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), supports the union movement and was quick to point out the flaws in the NCAA’s statement. Huma said that when an athlete devotes forty hours a week to practicing, training, traveling and playing, their main focus can not be education.
Colter reached out to Huma toward the end of last year because he wanted to do something about the way college athletes are treated. In September, Colter and several of his teammates along with players from Georgia and Georgia Tech, wore wristbands and used towels at their games which read APU (All Players Unite). The towels were an attempt to bring attention to the movement.
Huma, in turn, found a perfect partner in Colter and Northwestern. Since Northwestern is a private university, it is subject to the NLRB jurisdiction. Although the university itself does not support the creation of the union — despite agreeing with some of its ideas — players can still legally file a petition to form a union, due to its private institution status.
Schools which are public, are subject to the state laws which they reside in. Those schools are out of the jurisdiction of the NLRB. Colter’s enthusiasm toward getting a seat at the collective bargaining table, as well as the support of his teammates, was the last piece of the puzzle.
If the creation of the union is approved by the NLRB, Northwestern Football players will make history, as having created the first student athlete union. All players from the FBS, as well as players from other men’s college basketball teams, will be initially eligible; smaller revenue sports, will just have to get in line.
By Chris Chisam
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