No university president, athletic director, or coach reacted positively when football players at Northwestern University attempt to join a union. Now we know that they got the message. Huffington Post reports that officials in the NCAA will consider loosening the rules on paying athletes. The proposal would not affect all schools, only the largest conferences. It would also only apply to high profile men’s sports, such as football and basketball. Compensation would not be direct pay, but increased cost of living stipends and insurance policies. No one knows if these measures will be accepted. I do know this: If the players at Northwestern had not been bold enough to consider forming a union, the NCAA and its member schools would have never have considered paying athletes. Workers in other industries need to take note.
According to a recent poll, most Americans are opposed to paying college athletes. In a similar spirit many working people are opposed to unions because they have to pay dues, or they are conservatives who oppose unions because that's what conservatives do. In both of these examples, workers are working against themselves. If paying college athletes is wrong, why is it correct to pay their coaches million dollar contracts? If unions aren't a good thing, why do large businesses join together in the national chamber of commerce and professionals like lawyers and doctors unite in the ABA and the AMA. Too many American workers have bought the sound bytes pushed out by those who want to exploit them. Nothing will change until working people start to understand the interests that they share.
Apparently, college football players do. Think Progress reports that the National College Players Association has filed a petition on behalf of football players from Northwestern University to be recognized as members of a union. This effort is being support by the United Steelworkers Union.
I’ve long believed that college athletes who generate millions of dollars for their universities deserve some kind of compensation, and I have no problem with their organizing. However, it says a lot about our country when this story gets so much attention while the ongoing effort of low wage workers at Walmart and similar companies is almost ignored. Public sectors unions are under fire at the Supreme Court, again, with little or no coverage.
Until working people recognize that we are all in this together, it will be easy for the super rich and their lackeys in politics and the media to play games of divide and conquer. I hope low wage workers stand with college athletes in their struggle for union right. And I hope college athletes do the same for the people who serve them at fast food restaurants and big box retail stores. On this day that has seen the passing of the great Peter Seeger, a man who loved working people, we need to all stand together and support unions.