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Northwestern’s Kain Colter trying to unionize college athletes

Updated: January 28, 2014 10:27PM

Kain Colter was one of the faces of Northwestern football. Now he’s one of the faces of a movement that could change college athletics.

Colter, former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma and United Steelworkers president Leo W. Gerard on Tuesday announced the formation of the College Athletes Players Association. The CAPA, whose legal fees are being paid for by the USW, announced it filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to allow Northwestern football players to be represented by the CAPA, with the petition supported by authorization cards signed by Northwestern football players.

Colter, who said an “overwhelming majority” of NU scholarship football players signed cards, read a statement authorized by his teammates. It said their actions weren’t in response to any mistreatment at Northwestern, but from a desire to “eliminate unjust NCAA rules that create physical, academic and financial hardships for college athletes across the nation.”

“My goal is to make sure that all student-athletes are set up for success long after their playing days are over,” Colter said. “Unfortunately, basic necessities struggle to be delivered to these student-athletes despite the billions of dollars they generate annually.”

In a statement, the CAPA said if its petition is accepted, it eventually would allow athletes to collectively bargain to guarantee medical coverage for current and former players, reduce the risk of “sports-related traumatic brain injury,” increase graduation rates, secure “due process” for athletes accused of rule violations, “receive compensation” for commercial sponsorships and increase athletic scholarships.

The CAPA isn’t advocating that players receive salaries from universities.

“The players need more than an advocacy group,” said Huma, the CAPA president. Huma said at this point, the CAPA would represent Football Bowl Subdivision and Division I basketball players because it’s the “strongest argument.”

On Sept. 21 against Maine, Colter wore wristbands with the lettering “APU” — All Players United, an organization that looked to advocate for players’ rights.

Unlike APU, the CAPA is looking to unionize and is waiting for an NLRB hearing, where its labor rights will be determined.

Colter said the medical issues college athletes face are the same ones professionals face, but “we are left unprotected.”

“The current model resembles a dictatorship where the NCAA places these rules and regulations on the students without their input, or without their negotiation,” he said.

Colter said he contacted Huma last summer and brought up the potential of unionizing with his team after the season. On Tuesday, he told Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who later tweeted “Kain and our student-athletes have followed their beliefs with great passion and courage. I’m incredibly proud of our young men!”

In a statement, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said student-athletes should have a “prominent voice” in discussions about the impact of playing college sports, academic support and opportunities, but he disagreed that student-athletes are employees “and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns.”

NCAA legal chief Donald Remy said in a statement, “Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.”

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