Washington Evening Journal
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A momentous decision was made Wednesday that could be the beginning of radical change in the college sports world.
The National Labor Relations Board granted football players at Northwestern University the ability to form the nation?s first union of college athletes. The athletes feel that they are being treated like employees rather than student athletes, and have been fighting to form a union to protect themselves.
Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB regional director, said that the players ?fall squarely? under the broad umbrella of the term employee. To quote The Associated Press story on the issue, ?Under U.S. law, an employee is regarded as someone who, among other things, receives compensation for a service and is under the strict, direct control of managers. In the case of the Northwestern players, coaches are the managers and scholarships are a form of compensation.?
Northwestern quarterback Kane Coulter took the stand and said that the reason he was at Northwestern was to perform ?an athletic service.? He has a scholarship to play sports, and like many other athletes, might not be at that school had athletics not intervened. Led by Coulter, the players are fighting for better medical care for college athletes and for monetary compensation for what they do for universities.
The ruling noted that the Northwestern football program made $235 million in revenue for the university from 2003-13. This money helps support the other sports on campus and goes to countless other projects. Now imagine how much money a school like the University of Alabama makes from football. It is, no doubt, an ungodly amount. The National Collegiate Athletic Association and university administrators make money off the games and players. Do the players see a dime? No.
This ruling raises countless issues and long, arduous legal proceedings will take place in the coming months and years. Should college athletes be paid? Should an athlete risking mind and body be given more than a free education (which is only free if they have a scholarship, which many athletes do not)? These are questions we should be asking ourselves.
We have all heard the horror stories about things that have happened at certain schools. A Sports Illustrated report revealed that many players turned to drugs and lives of crime after being kicked off the football team because they were injured while attending Oklahoma State University. The Grambling State football team boycotted during this past season because of the disgusting and dangerous conditions (the school wasn?t even washing the jerseys between games). A golfer at Portland State was forced to pay the school $20 after she used a campus water hose to wash her car. Normal students would not have been able to use the hose; only athletes would have had access to it because of where it was on campus, therefore if she didn?t pay the school it would be deemed as illegal benefits and a violation against the NCAA. Seriously?
An athletes? union would not have allowed any of these things to happen.
The NCAA will fight this decision, claiming that student athletes have everything they need and a college education is all the compensation they deserve. That?s all fine and dandy, but let?s look at the facts: college sports is a billion dollar industry that uses college athletes to make money.
The NCAA is at the center of all of this. Money is currently warping the opinions of athletic directors across the nation. Conferences are realigning and old traditions/rivalries are dying because the NCAA and school administrators are greedy. Anyone who for a single second believes that Northwestern would care even a tiny bit about Coulter?s education if he wasn?t a football player is kidding themselves.
If your stance is a college athlete is not an employee and shouldn?t be paid, put yourself in a football player?s shoes. You are a star athlete for a premiere program. Your school is making millions of dollars off of television and radio contracts because people want to see/hear you play. Your school sells your jersey number because fans recognize that jersey number as you, but your name can?t be put on the back of the jersey because that would be illegal. The NCAA makes more money off of video games that have you playing football. Except, it?s not really you, it?s just someone that looks exactly like you and has your number, but they can?t put your name in the game because then you would require compensation.
New students come to your school because of the prosperity of the sports programs (it happens). You?re risking your body and are consumed by the countless hours of practice and travel that being an athlete requires. Your school is making millions upon millions of dollars through attendance, contracts and fame because you?re good at sports.
Do you see a dime of this money? No. Are you allowed to make any money off of your fame or allowed to take any benefits? No. Can college athletes be stripped of their scholarships and thrown out on the street without a thank you and without an education? Yes. This is what the union is fighting for.
The college landscape will continue to change regardless of our opinions. There may be a day coming where sports across all collegiate levels are unionized. All I ask is that you keep an open mind and think about what you would want if you were one of the players.