Before the 1995 college men’s basketball tournament, a growing sense of disillusionment with the NCAA’s practice of amateurism – that is, not paying student athletes – had spread across the country. Fed up, members of the UCLA, Wake Forest and UMass basketball teams planned to boycott the tournament to affect change, a move that would have shaken the system to its core and changed the future of collegiate sports.
Out of fear from being blackballed, the strike never happened, and the inequality has only grown since. Recently though, football players from Northwestern University rekindled this movement for change, but with a different tool: unionization.
Immediately the players were condemned—how could they want more than a free education? Ironically, this criticism best reflects why their union, the National College Players Association, is needed, and now more than ever.
For too long, the NCAA has used a veil of amateurism to obscure its underlying commercialism. Players have stood by as fans have bought their jerseys, as wallets of executives have bulged, and as enrollments in their universities have skyrocketed.
What was a multimillion-dollar industry is now a multibillion-dollar industry. The coaching salaries are now higher than ever, the TV deals are more lucrative than ever, and the players are still as suppressed as ever. This all in the name of amateurism, shrouding the truth while reaping profits from an industry built upon the players’ backs.
Through Donald Remy, the NCAA Chief Legal Officer, the association has shunned the proposal. “Student athletes are not employees,” he declared.
Well, Donald Remy, student athletes are currently not considered employees only because your organization refuses to pay them. In fact, they meet the criteria quite well: “A person in the service of another, under any contract of hire, express or implied… where the employer has the power or right to control and direct the employee in the material details of how the work is to be performed.”
Realizing the potential influx of athletes’ workers’ compensation claims, the NCAA conjured up the term “student-athlete” as a legal fiction in the 1950s solely to skirt its responsibility of paying the players who were injured in competition.
And now the NCPA seeks to cast off this legal fiction – this moral justification for the status quo – recognizing athletes as what they are: employees, in every sense of the term.
The NCPA does not seek payment, but only to be heard, to “have a seat at the table,” so that the well-being of college athletes is safeguarded by college athletes. Their demands? Health insurance, irrevocable scholarships and stipends that help to cover the costs of living for all athletes.
“All Players United.” That’s the NCPA rallying call. Because in an age where the NCAA itself “denies it has any legal duty to protect student-athletes,” the time has come for ‘student-athletes’ to protect themselves.
Corey Janson is a senior majoring in psychology and political science.