First Coast reacts to ruling that Northwestern players can unionize

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- College football players at Northwestern University wanted more say over medical coverage, injury protection, four-year scholarships, and even the possibility of being paid, and now they may get their wish.

A ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board says players are employees of the university and therefore can form a union. It is a decision that could revolutionize college sports.

Northwestern football players celebrated a Gator Bowl win in Jacksonville in January of last year. Now, they are celebrating a victory that could change the face of college sports, exactly how is just unknown at this time. Jacksonville sports law expert and former Olympian Nancy Hogshead-Makar agrees that under the law's definition, football players are employees and this ruling could lead to a fairer system between schools and athletes.

"I think any system where the highest paid person in the entire state is a football coach, is an out of whack system."

Rick Catlett, who has been involved in college football for many years as the director of the Gator Bowl, said he supports the idea of college football players being able to bargain.

"It will bring the voice of the players to the table when there is discussions about how the rules are made, and how money is distributed and those kinds of things and I think it is a good thing, a lot of people are talking about, my gosh the players have their voice. Shouldn't they have a voice, they are the ones putting their bodies out there on line," said Catlett.

Trinity Christian Academy football coach Verlon Dorminey has sent more than 40 of his players on to play college football. He said a union may not be the answer, but he said the players should get a share of the many millions of dollars they are making for the schools.

"A lot of the kids come from nothing and so when they get there they don't have anything anyway," said Dorminey. "To be able to take your girlfriend out for a dinner, to buy gas to put in your car, I think it is something they need and they are going to have to help them"

Hogshead-Makar, the senior director of advocacy for the women's sports foundation and champion of Title IX, believes it could benefit all athletes, including women athletes she has been fighting for for thirty years.

"Whatever they do give, whatever the men eventually get, the women will have to get that same thing."

But Hogshead-Makar said unionization won't happen anytime soon. She expects it to be in the courts for a while. Northwestern is planning to appeal to the full Labor Relations board in Washington.

It will interesting to see how it plays out. Dorminey said the ruling sheds light on the need for modernizing the scholarship programs at colleges.

An ABC News poll said Americans are divided on whether student-athletes should be able to form a union, but the public is overwhelmingly opposed to paying college athletes.


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