The labor conversation surrounding college athletes is understandably a touchy subject for many people, a large percentage of whom choose to stay on the sidelines, rather than getting personally involved and throwing in their own voice.
NFL Players Association president DeMaurice Smith elected not to be one of those individuals, penning an article posted on the Huffington Post website yesterday entitled “The Truth About Kain Colter’s Stand and Why NFL Players Support Him”.
Kain Colter is the former Northwestern quarterback who has become the face of the unionization discussion for college athletes, having helped bring a case before the National Labor Relations Board, which last month ruled that the Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and thus are entitled to form a union.
Unsurprisingly, Smith came out in favor of Colter and college athletes’ struggles to have their voices heard, considering that many of them will someday be professional athletes that he will be asked to represent.
Smith makes the argument that the NCAA and other detractors of college athletes’ rights employ a “bait-and-switch” when they raise the question of “whether or not college athletes should be paid”.
This is in line with what Ramogi Huma, the founder and president of the National College Players Association, said on his appearance on The Colbert Report last week, saying “our position is that college athletes are already paid”.
What Smith and Huma are arguing, then, is that turning the debate into a discussion about wages conflates the real issue.
In the more than 100 years since the NCAA was founded, it has not allowed athletes to have a seat at the table to discuss serious issues and therefore has done little to address full medical coverage for injuries sustained, limitations on practice time, scholarship shortfalls and rules to make promised education a reality. These are the real issues for Northwestern’s “student athletes”.
Smith writes that the NCAA wants college athletes to “shut up and play”. The association “wants college athletes to be a team everywhere except in a room where they can talk about the issues they care about”, he said. “They do not want a team that demands a response from a system that makes millions from their play”.
He concluded by writing that the NFL players support college athletes fighting to gain a voice at the table on issues pertaining to their own wellbeing:
Our union of professional football players stands firmly behind anyone who demands to be heard as a team. Every NFL player — past, present, and future — owes a debt of gratitude to our founders: Frank Gifford, Don Shula, Sam Huff and Norm Van Brocklin, who, in 1956, decided that they wanted to negotiate as a team with NFL owners over cleaner clothes, better work rules, better treatment of injuries and better health care.
After all, they were almost all once college athletes themselves. They know the system that they graduated from and what it would take to improve it, especially after having come through and seen the other side.