US college football players seek union representation

Athletes stand up against multi-billion dollar sports cartel

EPSN (Jan. 28) – For the first time in the history of college sports, athletes are asking to be represented by a labor union, taking formal steps on Tuesday to begin the process of being recognized as employees, EPSN’s “Outside The Lines” has learned.

Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern University, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.

Backed by the United Steelworkers union, Huma also filed union cards signed by an undisclosed number of Northwestern players with the NLRB – the federal statutory body that recognizes groups that seek collective bargaining rights.

“This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table,” said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker, who created the NCPA as an advocacy group in 2001. “Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections.”

Huma told “Outside The Lines” that the move to unionize players at Northwestern started with quarterback Kain Colter, who reached out to him last spring and asked for help in giving athletes representation in their effort to improve the conditions under which they play NCAA sports. Colter became a leading voice in regular NCPA-organized conference calls among players from around the country.

“The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern,” Colter said. “We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players – at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come.

“Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”


In a Sept. 21 game against Maine, Colter wore a black wristband with the hashtag “#APU” – All Players United – prominently scrawled in white marker as part of a quiet protest gesture. He was joined that day by about 10 teammates as well as players at Georgia and Georgia Tech. In all, players on seven teams in the five largest conferences displayed the #APU symbol, according to the NCPA.

Huma said he met with Northwestern players over the weekend on campus in Evanston, Ill., and took the next step in creating a collective voice for players. He said Colter introduced him to groups of players that Colter had talked with over the past couple of months about their interest in taking the unprecedented step of asking for union representation.

To have the NLRB consider a petition to be unionized, at least 30 per cent of the members of a group serving an employer must sign union cards.

Huma declined to say how many Northwestern players signed cards other than the number was an “overwhelming majority.” To get to 30 per cent, at least 26 of the 85 scholarship players had to sign.


Huma said CAPA’s goals are the same as those of the NCPA. The group has pressed for better concussion and other medical protections, and for scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance.

Having already successfully advocated for the creation of multiyear scholarships, it now would like those scholarships to be guaranteed even if a player is no longer able to continue for injury or medical reasons. The group has also called for a trust fund that players could tap into after their NCAA eligibility expires to finish schooling or be rewarded for finishing schooling.

The NCPA has lobbied state legislatures, Congress and the NCAA on these issues over the years, and earlier this month hired airplanes to fly protest banners during the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl and at the NCAA Convention in San Diego.

“It’s become clear that relying on NCAA policymakers won’t work, that they are never going to protect college athletes, and you can see that with their actions over the past decade,” Huma said. “Look at their position on concussions. They say they have no legal obligation to protect players.”

CAPA’s initial goals do not include a call for schools to pay salaries, Huma said. However, he declined to rule out the possibility that CAPA would seek that type of compensation in the future and said he knows the public will begin speculating about scenarios in which players would receive a cut of the $5.15 billion in revenues currently generated by athletic departments in the five power conferences.


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