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
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Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
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Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO.
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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