"Quaecumque sunt vera" ("Whatsoever things are true") is on the seal of Northwestern University. One truth is that Northwestern graduate and quarterback Kain Colter, the leader behind his team's decision to seek the right to unionize, is a young man whom any parent would be thrilled to have as a son. His school and the NCAA should be proud of him as well, but their truth is sadly different.
In the more than 100 years since the NCAA was founded, it has not allowed athletes to have a seat at the table to discuss serious issues and therefore has done little to address full medical coverage for injuries sustained, limitations on practice time, scholarship shortfalls and rules to make promised education a reality. These are the real issues for Northwestern's "student athletes," not the classic bait-and-switch argument that recent columns by university presidents and NCAA officials made regarding whether or not college athletes should get paid. These claims, recently published by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal with no rebuttals whatsoever, are not true.
The response of the NCAA, the university president and people who don't want to hear Kain and his teammates is essentially, "Shut up and play." The NCAA sells and wants college athletes to be a team everywhere except in a room where they can talk about the issues they care about. The truth is that they do not want a team that demands a response from a system that makes millions from their play.
After another thrilling March Madness and its multibillion-dollar machine, it is worth noting that the recent heightened interest in these issues is not the result of a new NCAA program for change but of the decision of the National Labor Relations Board to grant these students the same rights as others. Taylor Branch exposed the truth in his seminal piece "The Shame of College Sports," and the next step is to have someone in a position to do something about it.
Our union of professional football players stands firmly behind anyone who demands to be heard as a team. Every NFL player -- past, present, and future -- owes a debt of gratitude to our founders: Frank Gifford, Don Shula, Sam Huff and Norm Van Brocklin, who, in 1956, decided that they wanted to negotiate as a team with NFL owners over cleaner clothes, better work rules, better treatment of injuries and better health care. Our collective bargaining agreement today includes better pensions and benefits, safer practices, and injury protections because they fought for and won the ability to bargain and fight as one team.
It must start with the unselfish commitment and sacrifice of the few for the many whom they will never know or meet. Current and future college athletes -- and especially their parents -- should stand behind, support, and be proud of a young man who decided not to just "shut up and play." Kain Colter has met the challenge, and we know others will too.
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