Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Under Further Review: Northwestern Football Takes a Stand

"Nothing about us without us." - Eli Wolff at the Sport For Social Change Conference on Oct. 25, 2013.

Yesterday, in the midst of Super Bowl XLVIII media day in New York, something that can have much more of an impact on sports as we know it was happening in Chicago. Northwestern's football team took a historic step forward with the help of National College Player's Association president, Ramogi Huma. According to a report from ESPN investigative reporter Tom Farrey, Huma filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the Northwestern football players led by quarterback Kain Colter. The result could have an unprecedented college sports and the rights of college athletes.

The filing said that players listed would be represented under the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) and their employer was Northwestern University. The newly formed CAPA is no joke either. It's backed by the United Steelworkers and works alongside Huma and the NCPA.

As details continue to come out in the coming days, weeks, months about the petition to the NLRB, people will undoubtedly have a skewed view of the intent of the Colter and Northwestern's actions. They want money and salaries and signing bonuses, basically professional status. This, in fact, is not true.

At the Drexel Sport Management Student Union's Oct. 25, 2013 Sport For Social Change Conference, Brown University's Sport and Development Project program director, Eli Wolff, said, "Nothing about us without us." He was speaking on the topic of athletes with disabilities having a voice in the sports world, especially when it comes to managing their sports. It's a similar message that we see from women who see an injustice in men deciding female reproductive rights. It's what Northwestern football players are saying; they want a seat at the bargaining table.

Nothing about college athletes without college athletes.

Could giving college athletes a seat at the negotiating table potentially mean discussing player's getting paid? Maybe some day. But this isn't a group of short-sighted individuals just out for a quick payday. There are much more pressing issues at hand that require immediate attention.

(Check out Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel's take on Northwestern's historic action.)

There is an essential building block that college athletes need before financial compensation is ever discussed. They need rights. Without rights, there is no compensation. And there are plenty of rights that need to be negotiated. Rights like worker's compensation. Like healthcare. And most importantly like scholarship rights and terms. Better protocol for concussions. The term "student-athlete" was created in the 1950s under then-president of the NCAA Walter Byers to protect the organization from worker's compensation lawsuits. It looks like people are finally opening their eyes.

Looking back to when 28 players from three institutions (including Northwestern) wore #APU for All Players United on their wristbands and towels on Sept. 21, the gesture just grew in importance. Many wrote it off at the time as something that would never come to fruition. Others warned against that line of thinking. Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth said on an ESPN Outside the Lines podcast, "Big changes come from small gestures. A lot of big movements come from things that seem minor at the time."

Those words ring true on the topic of college athletics now more than ever as Northwestern is taking a historic stand that could change college athletics.


Kevin Rossi is a junior Drexel Sport Management major with minors in Communications and Business Administration. Since joining the SMTSU, Kevin has worked his way up the ladder to President. Currently, Kevin is also the Drexel editor for Kevin recently finished his second co-op with Temple University in their Athletic Communications office. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Connect with Kevin Rossi on LinkedIn.

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