My beloved Northwestern Wildcats have not had great success in athletics (well...men's athletics. Their women's Lacrosse team is a powerhouse, though, and their softball team has done very well, too), though they've at least done better in recent years. But still, Northwestern and athletics don't tend to get a lot of attention.
So, it was quite attention-getting on Tuesday when Northwestern made the lead story on many sports pages around the country, and was the lead story on ESPN's show, Pardon the Interruption. That's because, "for the first time in the history of college sports," as the ESPN.com story starts out, "athletes are asking to be represented by a labor union." And those athletes are the football team of Northwestern University. The players took official steps to start the process of recognition with the National Labor Relations Board.
At hand is the reality that universities across the country make upwards of $5 billion off the work of student-athletes, and whether those athletes should be considered employees and be able to share in the revenue. But the players insist that money is not the sole issue, or even the central one. “A lot of people will think this is all about money; it’s not,” quarterback Kain Colter told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard.” Among those other areas of concern are "financial coverage for sports-related medical expenses, placing independent concussion experts on the sidelines during games, establishing an educational trust fund to help former players graduate and 'due process' before a coach could strip a player of his scholarship for a rules violation."
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips released a statement where he actually supported some of the goals the students have put forth, however he drew the line at how the students were addressing the situation.
“Northwestern teaches our students to be leaders and independent thinkers who will make a positive impact,” he said. “(This) action demonstrates that they are doing so.
“We agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration. (But) Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns.”
Though the NCAA has come out against the action, the coach of the Northwestern football team, Pat Fitzgerald, has surprisingly, but impressively sent out a Tweet in support of his players.
It's certainly a major effort in a discussion that has been building over the recent years. And if nothing else comes from it -- hey, Northwestern athletics made the top story!
And if this story goes further, in at least some way -- and it certainly is opening the door for that -- the school may have established its place in college sports in a way that victories on the field never could.
And perhaps stage the first-ever, real Wildcat strike.