In recent days, high-ranking NCAA and university executives have had op-eds placed in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal arguing against the right of college players to unionize. One of those papers then turned down the NFLPA's attempt to get a response published.
That response appeared yesterday on the Huffington Post, written by NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith. The focus of his column is on clearing up exactly what a college players' union would be seeking—and it's not a paycheck.
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," not the classic bait-and-switch argument that recent columns by university presidents and NCAA officials made regarding whether or not college athletes should get paid.
This point probably can't be emphasized enough. There are those (like me!) who believe athletes in revenue sports should be compensated for the money they bring in, but that's a separate argument altogether from what Ramogi Huma, Kain Colter, and the other forces behind CAPA are seeking. "This is not about salary," Huma stated in a speech in Washington last week.
In arguing for recognition before the National Labor Relations Board (which ruled in the players' favor last month), CAPA clearly laid out its agenda: Better medical protections, fully guaranteed scholarships that cover the total cost of attending college, and the establishment of a fund to allow players to continue their education after their playing days are over. These sound to me like rational, uncontroversial goals—yet the NCAA has all but declared CAPA to be dangerous radicals.
Smith's op-ed goes on to announce that CAPA has the full support of the NFL Players Association, just as it should have the support of anyone who's ever enjoyed the benefits of labor unions' battles—like, say, anyone who doesn't have to work on Saturdays.
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. Our collective bargaining agreement today includes better pensions and benefits, safer practices, and injury protections because they fought for and won the ability to bargain and fight as one team.
Keep this distinction in mind when you hear about the more spectacular and potentially landscape-changing court battles in the works, like the Ed O'Bannon and Jeffrey Kessler lawsuits. CAPA doesn't want to blow up college sports; it just wants the players to have a say.