Here at ChipsterLife we enthusiastically support collective bargaining and have been reading with excitement over the decision by the NLRB to allow Northwestern Football players to vote for Unionization. Don Beto was a member of United Rubber Workers ( I have the parting lighter to prove it) and I have been a leader and continue to be a member of UAW Local 2865.
For those curious about the ruling and trying to make sense of the court case here is a particularly comprehensive and funny run down from Grantland. In general while the major points of discussion surrounds the big business of college athletics the racial component is overlooked over and over again. To be clear, most of these sports are played by men of color directed by mostly white men. They are asked to continuously surrender their bodies and have every aspect of their lives scrutinized for the purpose of sport and profit for little to no money, while in the collegiate ranks. Forming a union would allow these mostly African American men to have say over their working conditions, their bodies and the terms of their relationship to their largely white overseers.
On his March 28th Edge of Sports Podcast David Zirin notes the structure of college football, "saps black wealth, it saps wealth out of the black community, it saps wealth out of the people who are creating that wealth, it puts wealth in the hands of others." For the case of Alabama football their profit over the last year was 22 million. That is not say that every program generates that level of revenue. What that figure does indicate is that those profits are not going to the players that are creating it, and by extension into their communities. They are essentially being robbed of the wealth their bodies are generating.
For those that have ever seen the NFL Combine the image is uncomfortable. The Combine is the greatest showcase of the control exerted over black male college football athletes. With a large number emblazoned prominently over their chest they perform athletic feats; jumping, running, weightlifting, many interviews and finally taking a completely arbitrary Wonderlic test.
In her elegantly written piece, Megan Livingston in discussing the Combine notes that:
"Given the fact that 65 percent of NFL players are black, and team scouts and doctors are overwhelmingly white, the images produced at the Combine call forth the slavery comparison at its grizzliest: the sight of scantily-clad, muscle-bound black men being measured under the gaze of white men with dollar signs for eyes brings the auction block to mind whether or not you want to acknowledge it. And beyond the physical examination, there’s the sight of the black male body at work: running, jumping, exerting its energy to its limits for the ultimate satisfaction of the collective gaze of NFL stakeholders and fans."
The results of the Combine have an unwavering impact on draft position and future earnings. Furthemore, any outward signs of confidence and bravado are often interpreted as "red flags" by NFL executives who cherish control and discipline.
Granted these young men could make millions in their playing lives but for those that don't its become increasingly apparent that due to the violence of football they are more susceptible to suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury. Reports abound of pro athletes such as Junior Seau taking his own life due to the effects of brain injuries. However what is less often discussed is the likelihood for death for younger players as illustrated by several tragic cases including that of 22 year old Derek Sheely:
"Sheely had no prior hospitalizations with head trauma, but doctors wondered if he had suffered something called second impact syndrome, in which multiple hits over time culminating in a relatively minor one can suddenly result in massive brain swelling. The syndrome usually affects younger people whose brain tissue is still developing" http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/27/navy-football-player-will-mckamey-died-this-week-from-brain-injury-who-s-to-blame.html
The NFL Players Union has led the way in protecting their players by developing more stringent controls and tests if it appears that a concussion has occurred. This is one of the main focuses for the Union movement. Below is an interview with National College Player Association's (NCPA) Romgi Huma discussing their main points including Traumatic Brain Injury
The NCPA makes clear that their efforts are not about more money. Like in many other contract negotiations the important component is to have authority over working conditions and make them as safe and just as is possible. The only way to do that for these players is through collective bargaining made available by unionization. It is really the only way for these majority black men to take on the largely white authority and find justice in their workplace, college athletics and the football field