Retired NBA All-Star Chris Webber thinks college athletes are getting a raw deal when it comes to unionization and compensation.
Webber spoke out in support of college athletes after the National Labor Relations Board on Monday dealt a major blow to Northwestern football players' unionization efforts.
"I definitely think student athletes have the right to make sure that they can take care of each other," Webber told TMZ in a video published Tuesday. "Bill Russell told me any system that gets free labor is slavery. So, I'm sure they have the right to unionize."
A spokeswoman for the NCAA did not immediately return a request for comment.
Webber had a brief stint as an NCAA athlete himself, playing as part of the University of Michigan's "Fab Five" before he left college to turn pro.
The debate over whether college athletes should be paid shifted into high gear in early 2014 after football players from Northwestern University petitioned to unionize. The Chicago division of the labor relations board agreed that the football players are employees of the university, citing their time commitment, special rules governing their time and behavior and the fact that their scholarship money is directly tied to their seasonal performance.
In its Monday decision, the board declined to wade into the debate, and said extending union membership to the team would not "promote stability in labor relations."
While Northwestern is a private school, players at state schools could still try to be recognized as union members under state law, Fred Feinstein, a former general counsel for the NLRB, told The Huffington Post Monday.
In a statement Monday, the NCAA applauded the NLRB decision and said the organization "continually evolves to better support college athletes."
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