Saturday, April 26, 2014

Will Northwestern gridders feel fortunate they’re being allowed to play football? Or will they look out for self?

Members of the Northwestern Wildcats football program got their chance to vote on whether they can organize themselves as a union, but we’re not going to know the results for quite a while – if ever.

Ryan Stadium? Or a union shop?
I suspect if the university gets its way, we’ll never get a vote tally from the National Labor Relations Board. Just as they enforced the concept that the Evanston-based campus is private property, and they restricted who could be at the Welsh-Ryan Arena – where the voting took place.

SUPPOSEDLY, IT’S THE players who wanted this sense of privacy on Friday. Although I suspect most of them don’t really care either way, and it’s the university that doesn’t want the site of players talking to reporters about how much they’d like the additional protections that come about from unionization and collective bargaining.

The closest I ever came to being in this situation was a few months after I graduated from college, and I was writing for a suburban newspaper that was going through the process of trying to establish ourselves as a chapter of the Newspaper Guild.

We got as far as an election, and yes, I voted “yes” for union. But a slight majority of my colleagues voted “no,” and the union effort failed.

I’m sure the football players in recent weeks have been getting bombarded with information from both sides, trying to influence the young men of now how they want the football program to be in decades to come.

WHAT I RECALL of my own “union” experience is that I had to go through a summer and autumn of information bombardment before our election came about! Being told by one side how valued my talents were, and by the other how incredibly replaceable I was.

It was an intense-enough experience that I have no interest in going through that process anywhere else. Which I’m sure the Northwestern players will feel following Friday’s vote.

In listening to the rhetoric that has been spewed in recent weeks about the Northwestern situation, I can’t help but notice its similarity to my own memories. Some people want to emphasize how talented these particular athletes are, while others – particularly those who like to devote their lives to athletics – want to believe that people ought to be thankful to live in that world.

And if there happens to be circumstances involving injury that prevents them from playing any longer, perhaps it’s their own fault for getting injured. Some people (and not just in athletics) seem to be inclined to look the other way and ignore the problems that exist.

PERSONALLY, I’M INCLINED to think that the concerns of players about what becomes of them if they suffer a disabling injury is a legitimate one. Universities make enough money off their athletic programs that they ought to have some concern for the physical state of their players.

For as much as the big-time college athletic programs demand of their players with regards to time commitment for practice and promotion, it is difficult – if not impossible – for many of them to be serious students. Even if they were inclined to be!

Universities ought to be taking their students’ personal welfare more seriously. If anything, THAT is what I would hope would be the outcome of this labor situation.

Let the colleges improve conditions for their players to the point where those student-athletes would literally feel like they’re students just like everybody else on campus. And that the idea of needing a labor union to represent their interests would seem to them to be a tad bit of overkill.


No comments: