Testifying at a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter was his usual candid self on the issues of unionization and labor reform in college football.
According to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, Colter went so far as to compare college athletes to Navy SEALs in terms of training regiment and physical investment:
...the guys on the other side of the ball want to rip your head off. The plays are changing every week. It’s like war.
I like to think of it like the military/Navy SEALs. They spend months and weeks preparing for operations. It’s the same thing as football. We spend months getting ready for our operations.
As first reported by ESPN's Outside the Lines, Colter and some Northwestern teammates joined with Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, to file a petition to the NLRB that would grant college football players the right to unionize into a group called the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).
Because it would define college athletes as "employees" of a university, that grant would impugn the doctrine of amateurism that has long been championed by the NCAA. Though CAPA is not seeking to receive payment for its players as an explicit primary cause, this would open the door to such options and is seen as one of the first big steps in that direction.
The NCAA responded in short order to the petition, saying in a statement released by Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy:
This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.
Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.
According to Greenstein, Northwestern's attorney, Alex Barbour, shared a similar sentiment in his remarks during the NLRB hearing on Tuesday.
Northwestern "will prove that student-athletes are first, foremost and always students as opposed to employees," Barbour said. "...It is first and foremost a premier academic institution."
For what it's worth, Colter and his teammates do not have it in for their university, necessarily, even though that is who they are battling in this case.
They filed a petition to be seen as employees of Northwestern, but it is the NCAA whose policies are in governance of Northwestern that they truly seek to amend.
"Northwestern is a good employer," said CAPA attorney John Adam, according to Greenstein. "The players appreciate what Northwestern does for them.
"At the same time, they want a voice in their working conditions, their health and safety, their insurance, medical treatments for injuries that stay with them long after football, sometimes forever."
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT