In an unprecedented move earlier today, Chicago’s regional National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University’s football players are “employees” of the university, thus eligible to form a union.
The Chicago Tribune reports that NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr said that the players have a direct economic relationship with the university and are far more than simply “student-athletes.”
“The record makes clear that the Employer’s scholarship players are identified and recruited in the first instance because of their football prowess and not because of their academic achievement in high school,” Ohr wrote.
Football players, he said, are subject to special rules and policies that do got govern the general student population. For example, he said, freshmen and sophomore students on scholarships are required to live on campus. Upperclassmen, he added, can live off campus but are required to submit their lease for approval to their coach, Pat Fitzgerald.
“Even the players’ academic lives are controlled as evidenced by the fact that they are required to attend study hall if they fail to maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) in their classes,” Ohr wrote.
Ohr’s ruling is huge for student athletes of profit-generating college athletics, as it’s the first labor organization to come out and recognize these players for what they are: exploited labor for large media organizations and non-profits. Northwestern is expected to appeal the decision to the NLRB’s national board in Washington, which if Ohr’s decision is upheld there, will land it in federal appellate court for more legal-wrangling.
The irony of the situation is that in the case of Northwestern players (whom are recruited for academic reasons), they’re not looking to get paid exactly. A Northwestern player dropped a comment into a Reddit thread when the players announced earlier this year they planned to unionize:
NU player here on a throwaway. This isn’t about getting paid. What it is about is protection. Many of us will have numerous injuries throughout our playing careers. A group of those players will continue to feel the effects of those injuries long after their playing days are over. The goal is to have some sort of medical protection if we need surgeries stemming from injuries sustained while playing for our university. Another goal is graduate school for those who were fortunate enough to play as a true Freshman. Most student-athletes get redshirted in their first year, and receive one year of grad school payed for in their fifth year of eligibility. We feel as though it is fair to ask for the same investment from the university all around. It isn’t about getting an extra $200 a month for spending. We have our stipend, and if we budget correctly we are able to make it stretch for the month. Would it be nice to have some part of jersey sales or memorabilia sales? Absolutely. But that is not the goal as of right now.
Just wanted to add in that I am extremely thankful for the opportunity I have been given to not only play football, but to attend a world class university such as Northwestern. It is an opportunity millions dream of having. We are treated well at Northwestern, but unfortunately that is not the case at many other schools. Hopefully we can create a voice for the players and clean up these issues.
Could this be the landmark case to revolutionize the face of college sports?