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Northwestern Encourages Its Football Players To Vote Against Unionization

As we all know by now, the National Labor Relations Board recently sided with a case brought to them by the football players of Northwestern University, which alleged that they are in fact employees of the university and were thus entitled to unionize.

That vote is now on the horizon, scheduled to take place at the end of this week on Friday. Whether or not the players vote to unionize has the potential to be a turning point either way in how the manner the NCAA is run in the future.

Recently, following comments from national championship college basketball ‘student-athlete’ Shabazz Napier that there were nights that he would go to bed hungry, which received a great amount of publicity, the NCAA changed their rules.

Last week, the NCAA approved a new rule “allowing Division I programs to grant all of their athletes unlimited meals and snacks”. NCAA president Mark Emmert later awkwardly said that “if UConn wants to feed Shabazz breakfast in bed every day they can”.

Though Emmert denied that the quick turnaround was in any way prompted by Napier’s public comments, it certainly suggests that the NCAA is feeling the pressure of public scrutiny, and is perhaps sensing that the issue is coming to a head. It is a delicate time right now for the college sports landscape.

Which is what I find interesting about the comments made by Northwestern to its student-athletes during a question and answer session early this month that certainly seem to be an attempt to influence their players to vote against unionization.

While the session itself, and the record of it, were not publicly disclosed because Northwestern is a private institution, the university verified the authenticity of the document obtained by CBS detailing the events of the session.

During the session, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and others appear to use leading vocabulary when describing the unions, though they were by no means covert in their disapproval of the unionization anyway.

In response to one student-athlete’s inquiry regarding how they can “get back to being students”, the answer in response was in part that to express his desire to get back to that, he can vote “No” to unionization.

The answers frequently used the work “stuck” when it came to unions, as in once the football players vote to unionize, they would be “stuck” with the union for a while, adding that it’s “extremely difficult to get rid of a union”.

There are many other similar details that echo the sentiments of the university in their attempts to dissuade the football team from voting to form a union. Yet part of the union process is that “Northwestern can inform players but can’t make promises or threats or engage in speculation”.

A lot of this sounds like engaging in speculation at best, if not issuing veiled threats, including speculating that should the union, if in place, strike, the university would potentially bring in replacement players that they would ask to cross the picket line.

Whether or not you agree with the whole topic of college athlete unionization and where that might lead in the future, maybe you should at least feel mildly uncomfortable about people in a position of power discouraging people from obtaining the ability to collectively bargain on topics related to their own health.

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