“I’m incredibly proud of our young men! GO CATS!” tweeted Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald on Jan. 28, in the wake of his players’ petition to the National Labor Relations Board to unionize. As a second-generation NU alum, I was proud, too. The students’ actions embodied what a Northwestern education is supposed to be about: questioning the status quo, engaging debate, provoking new thought. Quaecumque sunt vera, as our motto reads, “Whatsoever things are true, think on these things.”
For the past three months, robust discussion has followed about the exploitation of student-athletes at colleges and universities across the country. It moved well beyond sports pages and barrooms to lunch counters and soccer fields. Without the courage of Kain Colter and other players, this long-overdue conversation about the protection — or lack thereof — for young people recruited by academic institutions to play sports simply would not have happened.
And it scared former UConn Chancellor Mark Emmert, now head of the NCAA, witless. So much so that all UConn guard Shabazz Napier had to say was “hungry” during the Final Four and within a week, the governing body over college sports magically relaxed its rules about food restrictions for players. Emmert and his counterparts at the NCAA with their six- and seven-figure salaries have billions of reasons to be afraid. They are called football and basketball.
Let’s be honest: the issue has never been about how Northwestern treats its football team or its 97 percent graduation rate. This case has been about making a mark; beginning to relieve the death-grip of the NCAA on money and college sports; showing the rest of the nation that a college athletes’ union could work. It has been about eventually changing the dynamic where too often once-talented athletes are left without an education, a career track or a clean bill of health because of injury on the field of play for the institution they signed with. The public is generally unaware that most athletic scholarships are year-to-year agreements, leaving the student high and dry should sports-ending injury occur.
Audrey Honig Geragosian is a 1989 graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a Northwestern football season ticket-holder. She is a freelance communications and media relations consultant.
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