Athletes, sports writers react to possible football unionization - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Athletes, sports writers react to possible football unionization

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Whether college athletes should get paid to play or if their scholarship payment enough is a debate that's been going on for years.

Tuesday one group of college football players took an unprecedented move in that direction.

"There were several times I got my bell rung," said Sam Simmons.

Simmons, a Kansas City native, spent four years slamming his body into others at Northwestern University and says a college players union would be a good thing.

"Scholarships aren't guaranteed. Medical coverage and things that players having to deal with that they wouldn't have to if they had a union watching their back," he said.

In Chicago Tuesday, current football players at Northwestern announced their plans to form a union.

It would be the first time in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association that players would be considered union employees and it could potentially change college sports completely. But some say the union doesn't necessarily mean paying players.

"I don't see it that way. I get a sense that Northwestern players want a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions that are most important to their life," Blair Kerkhoff, college football writer with Kansas City Star, said.

If the players, who are backed by the United Steelworkers, the United States steel union, are approved, it's only a matter of time before colleges like Kansas and Missouri file as well, and that could mean huge changes to the NCAA.

"I think Northwestern players are doing this with the idea that it will be something that will spread across the country," Kerkhoff said.

The NCAA released a statement through Donald Remy, the organization's chief legal officer, Tuesday afternoon saying:

"This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.

"Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

"Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes."

To be considered for a union, the team needed 30 percent or 26 of their 85 players to sign up. Simmons thinks it's the first step to paying college athletes.

"Something like that, where you have a billion-dollar business like the NCAA and these universities making money off not only football players but other sports, they are going to have to put in some kind of pay-for-play stipend," he said.

Northwestern University is not saying how many if their 86 players signed union cards, but did say they have the needed 30 percent to hold a vote.

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips released his own statement Tuesday afternoon:

"We love and are proud of our students. Northwestern teaches them to be leaders and independent thinkers who will make a positive impact on their communities, the nation and the world. Today's action demonstrates that they are doing so.

"Northwestern University always has been, and continues to be, committed to the health, safety and academic success of all of its students, including its student-athletes. The concerns regarding the long-term health impacts of playing intercollegiate sports, providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes are being discussed currently at the national level, and we agree that they should have a prominent voice in those discussions.

"We are pleased to note that the Northwestern students involved in this effort emphasized that they are not unhappy with the University, the football program or their treatment here, but are raising the concerns because of the importance of these issues nationally.

"Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns. However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration."

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