By Ken Reed
Like all change agents and reformists, Kain Colter has been experiencing a lot of resistance.
Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback, is heading an effort to give college football players the right to unionize. And as you might imagine, it’s been a bumpy road.
“I had one guy tell me that his son was my biggest fan, but after this, they were going to burn my jersey,” said Colter in an excellent feature article by Kevin Simpson of the Denver Post. “You can’t do anything but laugh. It’s crazy that you go from being the face of the program to one of the most hated people on campus.”
Colter says the feedback he’s received has actually been pretty evenly split between supporters and detractors. However, most people, no matter what side they come down on, don’t fully understand what Colter’s after. A lot of them believe Colter’s sole focus is securing the right for college football players to be paid. But his primary goal is to improve overall “working” conditions for college football players, including guaranteed medical benefits for injuries incurred while playing football, stipends to cover the full cost of college, establishing — and adhering to — strict concussion protocols, and preventing schools from pulling the scholarships of players who aren’t able to compete any longer due to injury.
In a somewhat surprising move from about a year ago, NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr found in favor of Colter’s unionization effort by basically saying Northwestern’s scholarship football players are employees. However, the ruling was just preliminary. Ohr’s decision was appealed to the full NLRB board. The final outcome is likely months, if not years, away. Nevertheless, Colter’s efforts are already bearing fruit for college athletes, including the recent widespread move by big-time college sports programs to provide scholarship athletes with stipends to cover the full cost of college attendance.
Colter knows that as his unionization process moves forward the pushback will get stronger and stronger. When asked if he was willing to continue moving this effort forward and take the growing abuse that surely will come his way, he said, “absolutely.”
Colter simply wants players to have a seat at the decision-making table in college athletics when it comes to issues involving player welfare. And it’s hard to argue with that.
Here’s wishing the best for Kain Colter as he continues on this courageous and important journey.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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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.
A League of Fans Special Report