Northwestern Football Players Looking to Join Labor Union

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2014

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A handful of Northwestern football players have kicked off the process of earning employee status for their participation in college athletics, according to sources close to ESPN's Outside the Lines, per ESPN.com's Tom Farrey.

National College Players Association president Ramogi Huma says Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and his teammates have requested to be represented by a labor union. 

Updates from Friday, Feb. 21

NBC Sports' Kevin McGuire reports that coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked to testify against unionization on Friday:

Because the College Athletes Players Association argues a relationship between a player and his coach should be considered an employee-employer relationship, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked to testify against his players on Friday.

Updates from Wednesday, Jan. 29

USA Today's Nina Mandel reports that former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron supports the players' cause:

“I think it’s a good thing for college football for someone to step up and to try get more for the players,” he told For The Win. “I think eventually they need to do something like Coach Saban said (that athletes should get additional financial support beyond scholarships)… there’s so much money being made by the NCAA, by all these athletes …”

“It’s almost a somewhat a bad deal the players aren’t getting some of (the money) especially when the jerseys are getting sold, they’re getting used for video games,” added McCarron. “Personally I think it’s good for college athletes — hopefully down the line they’ll start getting paid somewhere.”


Original Text

Huma confirmed that he has filed a petition on the players' behalf in an effort to advance their authority:

This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table. Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections.

According to Farrey, if certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) would be the entity representing the players. Huma, Colter and former Massachusetts basketball player Luke Bonner founded the association.

United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard talked about the reason his union was willing to lend support to CAPA:

When Ramogi first reached out to us years ago, we were like an overwhelming part of the population in that we figured athletes were lucky because they're getting an education. But then we looked into it and realized it's a myth. Many don't get a true education and their scholarships aren't guaranteed.

NCPA president Ramogi Huma
NCPA president Ramogi HumaDamian Dovarganes/Associated Press

United Steelworkers political director Tim Waters has also been critical of the NCAA throughout the process of attempting to legitimize CAPA, per Farrey: "The NCAA is a train wreck waiting to happen. What brought them to this moment is they couldn't control their greed. They put all this money in the system."

The NCAA has since replied in a statement on their website:

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.
Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.
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.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald also spoke about the news on his Twitter account:

According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, the NCPA also has the support of the NFL Players Association, which "pledges its support to the National Collegiate Players Association (NCPA) and its pursuit of basic rights and protections for future NFLPA members," via the resolution recently passed by Board of Player Representatives.      

The move to get CAPA approved comes in the wake of U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken's ruling in the high-profile O'Bannon vs. NCAA case. The judge ruled in favor of the challenge to NCAA amateurism but prevented Ed O'Bannon and others from "suing for damages on behalf of tens of thousands of former and current Division I men's basketball and football players," according to SI.com's Michael McCann

It remains to be seen whether CAPA will get approval from the NLRB and become an influential voice for college athletes. Still, it's clear already that these early steps point to coming change within college sports, per Sports Illustrated college football writer Stewart Mandel.

There's no denying that college athletes deserve to be heard when it comes to their various protections, but there's no telling the impact a certified labor union would have on the current dynamic. Pay for play has become a polarizing topic of late, and the formation of a union would obviously give players more power and say in regards to compensation.  

Although the balance of power has remained the same for years, it's seemingly only a matter of time before college athletes are awarded more influence. 

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