Education

Varsity Football Players Organize

by | January 28, 2014

Kain Colter called Tuesday a "historic day," one that began with a 7:45 a.m. meeting with Pat Fitzgerald in Evanston.

Colter informed the Northwestern coach what lay ahead _ an 11:30 a.m. news conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago where Colter would become the face of a new movement.

For the first time in the history of college sports, athletes are asking to be represented by a labor union. ESPN.com broke the story Tuesday morning, quoting Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association.

"This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table," Huma, a former UCLA linebacker, told ESPN.com.

Huma filed the petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. At least 30 percent of employees (in this case, at least 27 NU players) need to be in favor of the union to file the document. The next step is a formal election, which is supervised by the NLRB.

In his first public comments, Colter told the Chicago Tribune that college football players "need to have someone looking out for our best interests."

He cautioned that this is not about pushing for college athletes to get paid.

"A lot of people will think this is all about money; it's not," he said. "We're asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard."

Regarding the prospects of unionizing, Colter said: "Everything now is in the hands of the lawyers. We're not expecting a decision to be made right away. It might take a year or two or go all the way to the Supreme Court."

Colter, a star quarterback and receiver who completed his college football career in December, said he hopes that Fitzgerald and the NU community will applaud his stance.

"I loved attending Northwestern," he said. "It taught me how to be a great leader and thinker. I hope (coaches and officials) will be proud and agree with me. Coach Fitzgerald said he is supportive of anything that makes the student-athlete experience better."

In a Sept. 21 game against Maine, Colter and players from Georgia and Georgia Tech wore a wristband with the hashtag (pound sign)APU, which stands for "All Players United."

Colter said other NU players also wrote "(pound sign)APU" on wristbands or towels but none came forward.

Among the things that the College Athletes Players Association, the name of the group that would represent the players, would push for are medical bills to be paid and scholarship protection, Colter said at the news conference.

Colter called the college sports system a "dictatorship ... college athletes don't have a voice."

Said Colter, "I am honored to try and change college football for the better."

The other Northwestern players who signed cards seeking union protection will not comment, preferring that Colter be their spokesman. They issued a statement saying, "We Northwestern football players are grateful for our opportunity to play football for a prestigious university and athletic program. However, just as other athletes who compete in multibillion dollar industries have done, we must secure and maintain comprehensive protections by asserting the rights afforded to us under labor laws. We are not taking these measures out of any mistreatment from Northwestern. However, we recognize the need to eliminate unjust NCAA rules that create physical, academic, and financial hardships for college athletes across the nation.

"To remain silent while players are denied justice is to be complicit in inflicting injustice on future generations of college athletes. In waging our struggle, we will comply with all existing rules of Northwestern, the Big Ten, and the NCAA."

Colter will have ankle surgery later this week but hopes to be drafted as a receiver by an NFL team.

"I think the NFL will see him as an intelligent young man who wants to protect the interests of former teammates and college players," Mike McCartney, Colter's Chicago-based agent, told the Tribune. "Why would an NFL guy be put off by a leader trying to help other guys? Kain won't gain anything from this."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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