In what may end up being a landmark move, Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition to unionize on behalf of football players at Northwestern University. The petition was filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday, according to an ESPN “Outside The Lines” report.
Northwestern’s players are backed by the United Steelworkers union and the National College Players Association, which is an advocacy group founded by Huma, a former UCLA linebacker. The exact number of players who signed union cards for the petition was not released, but the NLRB requires at least 30 percent of group members to participate. At least 26 of the 85 scholarship players would have had to sign.
“The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern,” said Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter on espn.com. “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.”
If the NLRB grants the unionization request, the players will be represented by the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, a group created by Huma, Colter and former Massachusetts basketball player Luke Bonner.
CAPA — which only scholarship Football Bowl Subdivision football and men’s basketball players in the NCAA’s Division I may currently join — will not initially call for salaries, according to Huma. The organization is more focused at present on “physical, academic and financial protections” for players.
The NFL Players Association supports the effort, according to NBC Sports’ ProFootballTalk.
Debates over college athletes’ right to unionize will likely take several years to resolve. In addition, according to United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard, any decision in favor of the players would apply only to private universities.
In 2011 on the PBS NewsHour, Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Taylor Branch, author of “The Shame of College Sports,” and Joe Crowley, a former NCAA official, about whether or not college athletes should be paid.