Thoughts & Views: Football union could be ‘extra point’ this sport needs

Football players at Northwestern University, a Division 1 team in Evanston, Ill., may soon have a union to call their own, depending on the outcome of Friday’s vote by players and a review by the National Labor Relations Board.

How cool would that be … in a fiscally conservative RED state in America’s Heartland … in a state where worshippers of former President Ronald Reagan want to build a statue of their hero in Eureka.

If the efforts, backed by the United Steelworkers union, to organize a College Athletes Players Association bear fruit, just think of the possible consequences: Northwestern’s Wildcats are invited to a postseason Bowl game but the players vote to strike unless they get a higher percentage of the gate. I

ndeed, the possibilities are endless: What happens if the quarterback wants to renegotiate the contents of his athletic scholarship with Northwestern? What if the team refuses to execute plays drafted by the coach and files a grievance, claiming he’s “favoring” certain players?

Perhaps I unduly exaggerate.

On the other hand, if the courts – which may, in the end, have to arbitrate the whole labor relations precedent – uphold the union for the Wildcats on the gridiron, there is no doubt in my mind the movement will spread to other Division 1 campuses.

And maybe football is only the beginning. Organized labor is using that college sport as a launching pad for the movement since it generates the most revenues but if unionization grows there, who’s to say it couldn’t migrate to other interscholastic team sports? Let the games begin!

In view of the concussions litigation now afflicting the National Football League, maybe the organizing of college pigskin will serve at least one really useful purpose: giving the players a legal venue to force their “owners” to take a hard look at the safety risks inherent in the game, based on the values of hard “hits” being made by bulked-up defenders.

I mean, that certainly falls under the category of “working conditions,” in traditional labor parlance, doesn’t it?

And lest we forget, our college years are supposed to mold fledglings still finding their way into responsible adults to whom the nation looks as its future leaders. Why shouldn’t student-athletes’ association with a union – and learning how capitalism works in this country – be part of their curriculum?

Speaking of working conditions, we feel nothing but sadness for the legendary Sherpas of Nepal who make their living as guides to climbers of Mt. Everest and who lost 16 of their members in an avalanche earlier this month.

Many of the Sherpas walked off the job, at the peak of the climbing season, refusing to take further risks that, they feel, would place their lives at further peril, leaving many would-be climbers who’ve invested big bucks in ascents of the fabled mountain.

According to news reports, a Sherpa guide can earn up to $5,000 during the climbing season. To Western ears, that doesn’t sound like much but in Nepal’s economy, it’s apparently significant money.

Still, in terms of the degree of difficulty faced by a Sherpa, I’d sure want a union defending me. Maybe they don’t have the equivalent of Civil Service there and maybe they don’t have licensure requirements for mountain climbing, but Nepal and the multi-billion dollar hikers industry ought to think about bowing down and kissing the feet of these valuable guides.

And that’s just for starters.

 – Ron Leir 

Learn more about the writer ...