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A Change Of Heart About Unionizing Football At Northwestern

Second thoughts have crept in pretty quickly, and the vote looks to be heavily against unionizing.

Northwestern's Collin Ellis, #45, is running away from the idea of a union as fast as he can.
Northwestern's Collin Ellis, #45, is running away from the idea of a union as fast as he can.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The whole notion of unionizing college athletes took root first at Northwestern following a ruling by the National Labor Review Board, which said that athletes could be classified as employees.

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But after winning that argument, Northwestern football players have reversed course and have little interest at all in unionizing.

As it turns out, Northwestern football has a higher than normal sense of loyalty to the team, coach and school. Players say they're very concerned about damaging that.

But as powerful as the team concept is, self-interest always plays a role. So when members of the team realized, after the fact, that being classified as employees meant that things which are taken for granted - scholarships, training room and weight room privileges among them - could be reclassified as benefits and taxed - that changed things too.

If this article linked above is correct, the vote to unionize might not just lose, but might lose very badly indeed. And that would be a most interesting development.

By coincidence, there were some interesting rulings in the Ed O' Bannon case.

First, the judge ruled that "the First Amendment does not guarantee media organizations unlimited rights to broadcast entire college football and basketball games," according to Jon Solomon of

The NCAA had hoped that would get them off the hook for using the names, images and likenesses of the players.

Secondly, she told both parties to forget a summary judgement. Barring a settlement, it's going to a jury.

There's more too, but it's beyond our ability to explain it well. You can check the article yourself.

Finally, it doesn't directly relate to the links above, but it is interesting and relevant:  Alonzo Mourning has made a defense of higher education.

"None of [the money and celebrity] means anything if, once their career is over with, they don’t have anything to show for it. None of that means anything. The benefit of them staying in school and developing a stronger intellect and helping them make better decisions will help enhance the accomplishments of that next level, so that they can take care of their families for years and years to come.

"I know for a fact that four years of college — my development in school — was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life. Those four years were the most exciting four years of my life...We live in a world right now where if you can’t communicate, you can’t survive. It’s not about how much money you have. It’s: Can you communicate? So reading, writing, speaking — those particular things are extremely important.

"Is it important for kids to stay in school longer? Yes. It’s extremely important. Is it their constitutional right for them to work at the age of 18? Yes, it is. We can’t stop them from working at the age of 18. But there is a certain developmental process that I feel that the coaches and the parents are responsible for. You can’t expect the kid to figure it out for themselves."

It's really good that someone like Mourning said this because he has immense credibility with everyone involved. The reactions of just about everyone come down to the money: the money can't be turned down.

And we do understand that logic, which is particularly compelling for anyone who grew up with no money, like say Mourning's fellow Hoya Allen Iverson.

When we hear this argument, people often say that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both dropped out of school too. That kind of misses a couple of points though. First, neither one had a contract for millions. Both guys had big ideas and sensed that the world was about to change in a major way, and both were will to stake their futures on their visions. And it should be pointed out that Jobs often talked about how certain classes influenced his thinking and that he placed a lot of importance on a liberal arts education when he hired people.

There's no arguing with history. Just about everyone who has a chance to go as a high pick goes.

At the same time, there's no arguing that by going to work at 19 in a demanding and high pressured job, albeit one which pays extraordinarily well, you are also  giving some things up.

Then there are guys like this clown, who would argue that nothing ever trumps money. It would obviously be very hard for him to imagine Mourning sitting in a classroom as a senior, listening, absorbing and learning great ideas and thriving with a fine Catholic education. And it would be equally hard for him to imagine that Jabari Parker might actually enjoy school, might like classes and might be hearing things that he had never conceived of before college.

You can boil this idea down a lot of different ways, but just take it as a few either/or questions.

Who is the more admirable man, Donald Trump or Ai Weiwei?

Why is Lech Walesa remembered while Wojciech Jaruzelski is almost completely forgotten?

How did Nelson Mandela bring the South African government to its knees from his jail cell?

It's not complicated: people who are exposed to great ideas are more likely to do great things.

There's nothing wrong with taking the money, and if you can help lift your family out of poverty, no one should judge.

And in the same sense, no one should judge someone who assesses the risks and benefits and decides to stay in school.

Just about everyone wants to tell people how to live their lives. The great American poet Hank Williams had it about right: if you mind your own business you'll stay busy all the time.