SO YOUR FOOTBALL TEAM IS TRYING TO UNIONIZE
Look, I get it. Unions are polarizing and we may be facing a significant change to something that we love. This does not mean that we need to start pounding our fists and harrumphing until our opinion is heard in Evanston. Let me take you through a handful of fan-specific issues that seem to be getting a lot of attention.
You know what, I’m not even going to touch this one. We all know that this is not about getting a salary.
Let’s stop treating all players and all previously recognized employees of Northwestern as if they share one of two opinions. Each player feels differently. Each member of that athletic department feels differently. They hold personal and professional opinions. We can’t assume future legal action or a willingness to negotiate just based on the current appeal. We also can’t assume that President Shapiro, Dr. Phillips, Pat Fitzgerald and on down the line are vehemently opposed to unionization. They are probably quite conflicted. They likely want changes to be made and may even have doubts as to whether the NCAA can get those done.
And don’t forget that this is brand new for them, as well. They may fear the unintended consequences. They don’t want to see people lose their jobs within athletic departments or programs get cut because of something that might come from this. That’s certainly not to say that such things will happen, but we don’t know. These are reasonable fears of an unknowable future.
None of us want to see damaged relationships between Kain Colter and the program. This also isn’t really our business. Everyone involved is an adult and I’m sure these relationships will change over time. Whatever is going on inside the university or between the university and former players could very well blow over in time. It also shouldn’t impact the far more serious issues being discussed within the unionization effort. Let them figure that out.
There has not been any indication that this is a distraction to the team, somehow making the on-field product worse. The locker room distraction has been a favorite point of conjecture for columnists and fans for decades. It’s also often completely bogus. This is not a particularly time-consuming issue for them. And, to the best of my knowledge, the locker room has not divided into two halves with semi-regular West Side Story-inspired melees. You know what is a distraction to their football success? Having to go to class, study, and write papers. But that’s what they agreed to do when they signed the scholarship agreement and so far they’ve balanced that pretty well.
Also, video games. Lots of video games. I’m onto you, guys.
WE’RE GOING TO BE FINE
A lot of great points were made on this week’s West Lot Pirates podcast, specifically that it’s okay that we don’t know all of the ramifications of a potential union. Yet, those questions should not be a deterrent to trying to improve a flawed system. We all love college sports and most of us hate change. I’m one of those people. College sports fans are some of the most conservative, tradition-based fans in sports. We’ve been agitated by significant conference realignment over the past few years. But guess what: we’ll still have college sports. It may be different, but hopefully improved. We’ll still get to be irrational fans yelling at the TV. It’s not going away.
THIS ISN’T ABOUT US
It’s about the players. They are the ones who put in the time and sacrifice their bodies, not for our amusement, but for scholarship-based compensation. An idea has been floated by some fans that we should be trying to influence members of the Northwestern football team leading up to their vote on April 25. Most of us on both sides will agree that is lunacy, but it points to a larger trend that somehow our political opinions are relevant in this. They are not. Whether you are for unions, against them, or have no opinion, this is up to the players. It is their lives, not just the four or five years in college, but for the decades that follow.
Of course, there are also selfish reasons to care about the well-being of the athletes. Given the significant media attention that concussions and other health concerns have received by the national media, we run the risk of facing a shrinking pool of talent. Last fall, Outside the Lines reported that youth football participation had fallen by 9.5% between 2010 and 2012, the largest two-year decline for Pop Warner in their history. As information about potential medical concerns spreads to parents and young athletes, we may see more people turning away from football. If high school athletes start to fear an absence of long-term medical coverage from injuries suffered in college, the effect on college football could be significant: less talent, declining parity, and a less enjoyable “product” for fans to watch.
CAPA would have its biggest impact on future generations of college athletes if a union comes to fruition. The football team will vote based on a balance of their own immediate interests, those of others around the country who have worse medical coverage and only single-year guarantees on scholarships, and those of future athletes not yet born. There will likely be unintended consequences. They are facing an unknown, something completely new to the world of college athletics. This isn’t an easy decision to make, so let’s respect their privacy and their intelligence by leaving them alone.