NLRB grants review of Northwestern football players union ruling

Northwestern's Kain Colter (2) catches a pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA football game against Ohio State in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
April 24, 2014 2:51:15 PM PDT
The National Labor Relations Board has granted a request from Northwestern University to review a ruling that allows football players to form a union.

The players will vote by secret ballot April 25 to determine whether or not they will unionize, but the ballots will be impounded until the NLRB reaches a decision.

The university asked the NLRB to review and reverse the decision made by the regional board, which recently decided the Northwestern players on scholarship are employees and may be represented by a union.

Northwestern adamantly opposes the union vote, saying its athletes are students, not employees. Head football coach Pat Fitzgerald has told his players that they have nothing to gain from a union. Whatever comes of the vote, a group of Northwestern football alums say the issues that prompted it are not going away.

"We see an opportunity to work collaboratively to take our university forward," said Kevin Brown, 1985 Northwestern University football player.

They call themselves "NU game changers," Wildcat football stars of yesteryear. They are not pushing a pro- or anti-union vote, but strongly believe college athletes need a stronger voice in their own destiny.

"Unions might not be the right way to go, but if the NCAA had not let it get to this point, this would have never been an issue," said Rick Telander, 1971 Northwestern University football player and Sun-Times columnist.

As alums they want a seat at the table, and have asked Northwestern to discuss the broader needs of student athletes in an era when more is both given- and more demanded- of those who take the field.

Among other things, they're asking for improved sports-related medical benefits, allowing players to complete their degrees anytime without cost, free graduate school. Each speaks fondly of their alma mater, but thinks now is the time for Northwestern to take the lead.

A Northwestern spokesman said the university is willing to talk to many different groups. The game changers say these issues in college athletics have been percolating for a while now, and the iron is hot. They'd like to push the vote to a number of other private universities who may be faced with the same issue.


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