You all have likely heard about the NFL and their sticky situation with former players stepping forward to attempt to collect workers’ compensation payments for injuries they sustained (and are still suffering from) while playing in the league.
Now collegiate players are forming their own case.
Northwestern University’s football team has kick-started the movement to unionize college athletes. While some are dismissing the action as an attempt to get more money, I think it goes a little bit deeper than that. I think they have seen what is happening at a professional level and are just looking out for themselves and any future medical problems they might suffer as a result of their dedication to the school and the sport. Yes they are “amateurs” but they are adults who know what they are getting into by playing at a college level. These guys could suffer injuries that follow them the rest of their lives.
Former quarterback Kain Colter announced the College Athletes Players Association is petitioning the National Labor Relations Board to try and form a union, and the group is optimistic about their chances. They could be considered employees with collective bargaining power and be eligible for benefits geared towards employees, like workers’ compensation benefits.
Their demands include financial coverage for medical expenses related to injuries sustained while playing. They want concussion experts to be on the field during games. They want more of a “Due Process” system in place before coaches completely denounce a player and take their scholarship money for any violations. They also ask for educational trust funds to be set up to help players graduate. Participation in athletics is demanding and it can hurt students academically. They also ask for a “cost of attendance” stipend and to be allowed to take compensation from sponsors, as long as they are consistent with NCAA regulations.
The NFL Players Association has supported this measure but others are not so keen on the idea. The NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy came out with a statement saying that turning student athletes into employees undercuts the reason they are there in the first place- to get an education.
“Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary,” said Remy.
Northwestern students voiced support for Colter, with senior economics major James Prince saying: “It’s a bold move and, I think, a good idea. I know college athletes get an education, but a lot of times they bring in more than what they’re getting out.”
If this happens, I think it is a system that is going to have to be tightly monitored. I see the potential for abuse and excess, especially when it comes to the sponsorship request. They are still students after all and they should be more focused on their studies than photo-shoots for Nike. But they are also human beings. If they ask for concussion experts and compensation for the debilitating injuries they suffered playing for their school I see no problem in covering that.
The National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing to determine the fate of the union on February 7.
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