NLRB’s foul against NorthwesternBlog added by Allen Greenberg on March 28, 2014
Allen Greenberg

Allen Greenberg

Denver, CO

Joined: May 29, 2013

National Labor Relations Board regional director Peter Ohr needs to look up the definition of an employee.

There are plenty of things we do to qualify as “employees,” e.g., washing windows, leading multinational corporations, etc., in exchange for compensation, but playing college football on a scholarship at a private college just isn’t one of them.

Ohr is the NLRB man who this week issued a 24-page decision that paves the way for Northwestern football players to form a union.

Thankfully, his word won’t be the last; the full NLRB will now review the case based on an appeal by Northwestern.

“The players won on every question,” said Tim Waters, the political director for the United Steelworkers, which has worked for more than a decade on rights for college athletes. “It’s a huge victory.”

Actually, it’s more of a Pyrrhic victory.

Giving college football players the right to organize might be welcome by those already in school. But it’s sure to have the effect of hurting the odds of those still in high school, the kids hoping to win the kind of scholarship support those ahead them received.

Yes, TV revenue has skyrocketed, amounting to billions of dollars that universities and their conferences can use to pay coaches and administrators. Yes, reforms are needed in college sports. Player safety needs to take center stage, and the NCAA has more than its share of issues.

But the scholarships that college football players receive cover their tuition, books, housing and meals. They get to play football, they get a free education, and, if they’re really talented, they get a shot at the pros.

The players pushing for the right to unionize include Kain Colter, who says he arrived at Northwestern with dreams of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

Testifying last month, he said he was somehow steered away from a chemistry class toward less strenuous options like sociology and African history. He is now pursuing a psychology degree instead of premed.

And where does the blame for this lie? In Colter’s view, his decision not to pursue medicine is the fault of the Northwestern football organization.

Pre-season training camp, he says, means putting in up to 60 hours per week. During the season, he claims, players are expected to commit 40 to 50 hours each week.

“It makes it hard for you to succeed (off the field),” Colter said. “You can’t ever reach your academic potential with the time demands. You have to sacrifice, and we’re not allowed to sacrifice football.”

Well, of course, that’s simply laughable, because anyone on the team who feels as if their academics are suffering always has the option to walk off the field and redirect their energy to schoolwork.

There are plenty of kids waiting in the wings for a shot at a free education in exchange for a hard workout and the chance to play a game under the bright lights.

Yes, football players have to abide by all kinds of rules and live up to all sorts of expectations to remain on the team. But that doesn’t make them employees. It just makes them lucky jocks.

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