For the past two years, the National Football League Players Association has supported college athletes’ attempts to raise awareness about issues they want the NCAA to address. So it’s no surprise that the players’ union is ready to support the efforts of athletes at Northwestern University who are trying to form their own union at the college level.
The NFLPA passed a resolution two years ago supporting All Players United, the effort to draw attention to an array of issues athletes felt the NCAA had failed to address, from health and safety to full cost of attendance financial aid packages to scholarship protections when they get hurt. The union effort is modeled after the same causes (it’s not, as many instantly concluded, about pay-for-play, at least for now).
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said during a speech at American University’s Washington College of Law this week that while he’s unsure whether college athletes should be paid, he’s certain that the other issues they have raised need to be handled — and that a collegiate players union is the only way to do it.
“It seems to me there are some fundamental things normal Americans should be able to agree on,” Smith said. “Should any college player on a scholarship live below the poverty line? I think the answer should be no. Do I think any college athlete should have to pay out of his own pocket for injuries that he or she suffered playing a college sport? I think the answer’s no. And I think if you get injured playing college athletics and you lose your scholarship, I think there’s something morally wrong with you not being able to continue your academics. I mean, call me crazy, but those things to me seem to be fundamental issues of what’s right.”
“The only way you can get them — and I mean this, the only way you can get them — is if you have a group of people who’ve decided to band together for collective action in order to force change,” Smith added. “Because without that, it’s simply a wonderful discussion about including people who might be affected.”
The Northwestern players had their first hearing Wednesday in front of the Chicago chapter of the National Labor Relations Board, which will ultimately decide if athletes constitute employees who can organize and bargain. The next hearing is scheduled for February 18.
The NFLPA will support the players throughout the process as they have for the last two years, Smith said.
“To me the beauty of those college athletes is that they’re not asking. They’re demanding,” he said. “And we’re going to stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with them.”