Universities have long exploited student athletes; they mine the kids for their talent and then push them through their degree while not giving them the opportunity to learn, in many cases. Additionally, most recruited student athletes come from poor homes, placing them in the center of a multibillion dollar industry in which they get no piece of the pie. This was very clearly demonstrated with the UConn point guard Shabaaz Napier after his team won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. He was in the center of the glitz and glamour, surrounded by media, fans and cameras. The irony is just a few weeks before he had told reports, “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”
Napier made this remark when asked about the Northwestern Wildcats and the Chicago Football team’s attempt to unionize. The athletes at Northwestern filed with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in order to form and union and to gain legal status of University employees. They won the latter victory and the athletes will vote whether to unionize later this April. Their first goal with union power is to allow student athletes to keep athletic scholarship if they get injured. This way they can stay in school and they still have a future. It seems only fair since the sport, which they play for the school most likely, will have caused such and injury. Farther down the line the players are thinking about trying to get a cut of the money the school rakes in from advertising revenue for the game. The problem with student athletes being paid is that it directly violates the NCAA sanctions and if they do get money, Northwestern would lose eligibility.
There are other hurtles to overcome. Although the team was able to pass their employee status, Northwestern is appealing the NLRB’s decision. Next it will go to a panel in Washington D.C. for review. Many in the legal department think that unionization will pass but whether students are employees and that is why they should unionize is a controversial debate and will most likely make its way up to Federal Court. This debate is starting in Northwestern and may spread to a few other schools, but that alone will not take down the NCAA. However, it is putting the idea into student athlete’s heads all over the country that they are not being treated fairly. If that idea starts to spread, according to Tim Waters, the political director for the United Steelworkers union, “Their whole empire is starting to crumble.”