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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • HiVul

    Matt, is there any potential for fallout over the speculation or veiled threats?

  • pittsburghjoe

    Greed…..Sooner or later its going to destroy sports, whether its pro or college. As much as I love the game of football, there are times I feel totally disgusted by my love of the game. My interest, along with that of many other sports fans, is just fueling the fire. In the case of college, the pie has become way too big, and its now time to share a piece. Take your choice kids….Apple or Coconut Creme. The fat university president is stuffed, and cant eat another bite…but he or she would rather explode than give a piece away.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Actually I do not feel bad about the University discouraging players not to vote the union in. This is a private institution who makes their own rules and if you do not like how they run their affairs as a college football team you choose another university. I do not think it is right for any 3rd party organization to tell individuals of a owning entity how to best run their business and then the 3rd party profits.

  • Hard Row

    If college players get paid real money beyond a modest stipend for a bit of pocket cash, then college athletics will vanish rapidly. People seem to think these schools make tons of money on these sports but the fact is most schools lose money overall on sports.

    Football is the only sport that makes money for most schools and it loses money for many. University of Tennessee athletics is $200 Million in debt.

    Who gets paid? Do you hand the star QB a wad of cash and then tell the backup Centr to get lost? Title IX would not allow schools to pay male athletes and not pay females. So now you will end up having to pay women’s field hockey players and male wrestlers. You already lose money on all sports but football.

    The reaction will be to start dropping whole sports and keeping just the few you can afford. Now instead of there being maybe 800 scholarship athletes at a big school, maybe it’s cut down to 200 or so. Small schools may drop more.

    Maybe now that girl who got a basketball scholarship ends up not going to college at all because only a few schools still have women’s Bball.

    For what? So that some football players can afford that sleeve of tats they always wanted?

    Here’ a novel concept. You want more money for pizza and beer? Why not take a loan like most other students? These athletes get everything else paid for, let’s say they borrow $1000 per semester for spending cash. That means they leave school after 4 years with $8000 in debt. Oh the Horror. How could a college grad ever get out from such crushing debt?

    Sign me up to get “exploited” like that.

  • AndyR34

    Does that include the NCAA telling Northwestern how to run their business? Should Northwestern be allowed to determine their own eligibility rules…how much they can pay their “student-athletes”…how many years they are allowed to play, etc., etc.? Just asking?

  • pittsburghjoe

    Shannon, pick your poison…. a greedy university or a labor organization that started with a great purpose that went sorely off track…. If you happen to hear that big popping sound, it was the University’s collective gross revenue’s getting a big flat tire.

  • HiVul

    I think the only thing that’s unfair is that you HAVE to play college sports to get into the NFL or NBA. If a team is willing to sign an 18 year old straight of high school, I don’t think it makes sense to force them to take way less money (the price of a tuition/yr compared to a rookie contract).

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Northwestern can choose not to be in the NCAA and not live by their rules. Northwestern gets to choose that.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Whether the university is greedy is their own choice because they were the ones that risk their own money to create this institution so they can reap what benefits they wish. The University offers something to student athletes and the student athlete can look at that choice and decide they do not want it.

  • AndyR34

    And, of course they get to choose whether or not they offer intercollegiate athletics. If they choose to do so, they choose to live with whatever associations are involved.

  • Shannon Stephenson