Northwestern Athletes Trying to Form First-ever Collegiate Sports Union

Northwestern Athletes Trying to Form First-ever Collegiate Sports Union

For the first time in history, college athletes will try to form a union a year after President Barack Obama suggested that college athletes should organize.

On Tuesday, Northwestern football player Kain Colter informed the school that the football team would try to form a union. Reportedly backed by the United Steelworkers union, the Northwestern players reportedly submitted an undisclosed number of signed union cards. Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association and former UCLA linebacker, reportedly “filed the petition in Chicago on behalf of football players at Northwestern, submitting the form at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. At least 30 percent of employees (in this case, at least 27 NU players) need to be in favor of the union to file the document. The next step is a formal election, which is supervised by the NLRB.”

Coutler told the Chicago Tribune that college football players “need to have someone looking out for our best interests,” was not about college athletes getting paid, and that, “Everything now is in the hands of the lawyers. We’re not expecting a decision to be made right away. It might take a year or two or go all the way to the Supreme Court.” Coulter said the College Athletes Players Association, “the name of the group that would represent the players,” would want “medical bills to be paid and scholarship protection, Colter said at the news conference.”

Last year, in an interview with the left-leaning New Republic, Obama said:

I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies. You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about. 

Colter reportedly described the college sports system as a “dictatorship where “college athletes don’t have a voice” and said that he was “honored to try and change college football for the better.”

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said that while “today’s action demonstrates” that the players are independent thinkers, “Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns. However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration.”

The NCAA also issued a statement. Donald Remy, its chief legal officer, said: “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. 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.

According to, the group has 11 specific goals.

1. Minimize college athletes’ brain trauma risks.

2. Raise the scholarship amount.

3. Prevent players from being stuck paying sports-related medical expenses.

4. Increase graduation rates.

5. Protect educational opportunities for student-athletes in good standing.

6. Prohibit universities from using a permanent injury suffered during athletics as a reason to reduce/eliminate a scholarship.

7. Establish and enforce uniform safety guidelines in all sports to help prevent serious injuries and avoidable deaths.

8. Eliminate restrictions on legitimate employment and players ability to directly benefit from commercial opportunities.

9. Prohibit the punishment of college athletes that have not committed a violation.

10. Guarantee that college athletes are granted an athletic release from their university if they wish to transfer schools.

11. Allow college athletes of all sports the ability to transfer schools one time without punishment.


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