The upcoming Super Bowl might be the biggest sports-related story this week, but Kain Colter and his proposed union for college athletes is what made front page news yesterday.
The former Northwestern QB, along with a group of Wildcat football players, are attempting to start a labor union for college athletes, called the College Athletes Players Association. The organization would work towards better medical care, specifically for concussions, as well as guaranteed scholarships for student-athletes and a post-playing trust fund, which could be used by athletes who return to school after their eligibility has ended/they go pro.
A petition for the creation of the union was filed in Chicago on Tuesday by Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, on behalf of NU’s players. Huma submitted the paperwork at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, and players also signed union cards, which Huma filed. They are being backed by the United Steelworkers union.
Colter, who missed part of the season with a shoulder injury and had to withdraw from Senior Bowl practices last week due to needing ankle surgery, is hoping to hear his name called at the NFL Draft in April. But while playing football professionally is one of his focuses, Colter also wants protection for players still in college, and has become the face of this newest movement. He has been advocating for players’ rights for some time, Colter, along with a handful of other Wildcats and players at Georgia and Georgia Tech, wore a wristband with the letters APU, for All Players United, during a game this season.
While that was a small-scale demonstration, the attempt at creating a union is much more of a big deal. When asked why he chose to take this step, Colter said:
“The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern,” Colter said. “We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players — at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come.
“Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”
Unsurprisingly, the NCAA is not on board with this idea. Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said in a statement:
“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.”
For their part, Northwestern took somewhat of a middle ground position, saying they supported the student-athletes in their right to voice concerns, but they do not view them as unionized employees.
We may or may not ever reach the point where student-athletes and fully compensated, and maybe they shouldn’t be. They are, after all, amateurs (technically, anyway). But, unlike previous payment proposals, this one isn’t a pay-for-play situation. And I don’t think asking for medical considerations and some degree of financial support is all that unreasonable. The NCAA, of course, wants no part of this, because it will inhibit their ability to run the show and make money off of the players.
It’ll be interesting to see how this story develops, and if any other players get involved. It will also be interesting to see whether or not this has any effect on Colter’s draft stock. It’s unlikely that it would hurt him though, as he’s not really causing problems and is in fact advocating for his former peers.
As a graduate of NU, I’m proud to see guys from my team standing up for what they think is right. I’m not sure this union is going to come to fruition – at least not now – but even petitioning for its creation is a bigger, more important step than has ever been taken. To quote our fight song, Go U Northwestern.