The long-time behavior of so many of America’s universities, in claiming that their football programs are really amateur, has long been one of much of higher education’s leading hypocrisies.
With the commendable exception of the Ivy League and our service academies, the athletic scholarships and many other forms of subsidies have made many universities into a large collection of semi pros.
Now comes news from Illinois that the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the football team of Northwestern University are employees of that institution and are entitled to form a labor union.
Think about that.
The NLRB’s regional director, Peter Sung Ohr, referenced Northwestern players’ time commitment to their sport and the fact that their scholarships were awarded on the basis of their performance on the field as the reason for giving them labor union rights and status.
This absolutely begs the question: How do the pro football teams from cities across this nation react to this emergence and recognition of more pro-footballers?
Northwestern University issued the following statement:
“While we respect the NLRB’s process and the regional director’s opinion, we disagree with it. Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.”
From the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s chief legal officer, Donald Remy, came the following:
“While not a party to the proceeding, the NCAA is disappointed that the NLRB region 13 determined that the Northwestern football team may vote to be considered university employees. We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees. … We do not need to completely throw away a system that’s helped literally millions of students over the past decade attend college. We want student-athletes – 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues – focused on what matters most – finding success in the classroom, on the field, and in life.”
But former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter contends that all of the 85 scholarship recipients on the Wildcats’ roster backed the union bid, whose legal bills have been paid by the United Steel Workers of the AFLCIO.
Colter also told the NLRB hearing:
“Players’ performance on the field is more important to Northwestern than their in-class performance. You fulfill the football requirement, and, if you can, you fit in academics.”
Asked why Northwestern gave him a scholarship of $75,000 a year, he replied:
“To play football. To perform an athletic service.”
Which is surely a reason why the trustees of Northwestern should abolish the college football program – as did the nearby University of Chicago in the last century.
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