Northwestern football players petition for union

Northwestern football players petition for union

Move is an effort to bring attention to medical risks and costs
The risks of brain trauma and sports-related medical expenses are two concerns of the Northwestern U athletes. (Photo: Northwestern Athletics)

College football players from Northwestern University in Illinois, along with the National College Players Association, have petitioned to unionize in an effort to bring attention to athletes’ brain trauma risks, sports-related medical expenses, scholarships and academic success.

But do they have a case? And what would unionizing mean for college athletics?

The NCAA is confident the National Labor Relations Board will have to step down. According to Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer, the board has no right to unionize student-athletes, as they are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education,” he says. “Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.”

Some of the issues raised by the students, especially concussions among athletes, have been getting national attention lately.

Fast Facts

      • 24% - College football players who have had one concussion
      • 20% - College football players who have endured multiple concussions
      • Source: American Association of Neurological Surgeons

Last November, three former college players filed a federal lawsuit in Minnesota, alleging that the NCAA didn’t inform players about the high risk of concussions inherent in football.

And according to a study by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the concussion rate could be increasing. The number of concussions reported by players at three Division I football programs went from 23 during the 2009-10 season, to 42 during the next season immediately following an NCAA mandate that schools have concussion prevention programs in place.

People who have had repeated concussions may have serious long-term problems, including chronic difficulty with concentration, memory and headaches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They can also have an increased risk of brain injury as they age.

Northwestern agrees that students should have a voice in those discussions, as Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for university relations, wrote in a statement.

“We believe that a collective bargaining process at Northwestern would not advance the discussion of these topics, in large part because most of the issues being raised by the union are outside the purview of Northwestern.”

While the administration doesn’t feel unionization is the answer, officials are proud of its students for raising the issues, said Cubbage, and look forward to working with students to address the issues appropriately.


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