By Ken Reed
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that college football players (at Northwestern University anyway) fit the definition of “employees,” making them eligible to form the first labor union in the history of college sports. Under this ruling, players would be eligible to collectively bargain compensation and other benefits, including medical coverage. In effect, it would give them a seat at the negotiating table on all issues impacting their wellbeing.
Of course, this NLRB decision is far from a done deal. Northwestern has already started the NLRB appeal process, and undoubtedly the NCAA will bring in its legal guns at some point. But given this ruling, and other recent developments like the Ed O’Bannon case, change is most definitely on the way in college sports.
And pro sports for that matter. For one thing, it’s unlikely that the NFL will continue to be able to use the NCAA for a free minor league player development system. An NFL minor league will likely be one fallout of the evolution of college sports.
But that’s a topic for another day. Despite a multitude of experts saying the Northwestern players, led by quarterback Kain Colter, would lose the NLRB case, they scored a huge victory. If you look at the merits of the case it seems like a no-brainer in the players favor. Consider that football players don’t get any academic credits for playing football. Also, they are compensated at some level for playing, in the form of a scholarship. And they put in 40+ hours a week on their sport, as Colter testified in this NLRB case. Sure sounds like employment to me.
Regional NLRB director Pete Sung Ohr agreed, saying that it can’t be said that Northwestern’s scholarship athletes are “primarily students.”
Change is definitely coming, even though we don’t know what it will ultimately look like. For example, will this NLRB ruling impact all college sports or just football? If it’s just football and men’s basketball, what are the Title IX implications?
Nevertheless, Ohr’s NLRB ruling intuitively feels like momentum moving in the right direction — especially for college athletes, who have long been denied basic economic and civil rights the rest of us take for granted.
It wasn’t the final step, but the NLRB ruling was a grand step toward social justice for college athletes.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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