RICH JAMES: Football players wrong to tackle Northwestern

2014-03-30T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Football players wrong to tackle NorthwesternBy Rich James
March 30, 2014 12:00 am  • 

I find it a bit odd that steelworkers in Gary, East Chicago, Burns Harbor and other places are financing the Northwestern University football players' fight to unionize.

Northwestern is a prestigious university, and the lion’s share of its graduates end up in lucrative positions on the managerial level, not working in the BOP shop.

It’s not that there is a thing wrong with being a steelworker. Those folks are the salt of the earth. They played a major role in building America.

The steelworkers also were a big part of the movement that brought unions to America. They are the unions that brought safety to the workplace, fair wages, overtime pay, health care and more.

While I am a longtime union supporter, I can’t buy the National Labor Relations Board’s decision that Northwestern football players should be allowed to unionize.

The NLRB said the players are employees because of the scholarships issued by the university. The players said their scholarships are compensation and their coaches are managers.

The university said athletes, as students, aren’t like factory workers, truck drivers or other unionized workers.

The university is right.

The ability to play football provides those athletes with the opportunity to a college degree without having to pay for it.

I would say that is more than just compensation for playing football.

Northwestern is providing the athletes the ability to earn a living — and in most cases a pretty good one.

The players argue their services help the university generate millions of dollars in profits. Yes, and some of those profits are used to provide scholarships to football players.

The players argue their goals are coverage of sports-related medical expenses, protection from head injuries and perhaps pursing commercial sponsorships. Those issues are better left to the NCAA to handle.

I shudder to think what could result from unions for college players.

Could there be player strikes or lockouts?

Might players attempt to dictate schedules, the length of practice, meals, class schedules, uniforms, pads, playing time and the coaching staff?

I suppose unionization could mean any of those things.

But I suspect it’s all about money.

For instance, the NCAA is fighting a class-action federal lawsuit by former players seeking a cut of the money earned from live broadcasts, memorabilia and more.

During the recent discussion over unionization, some so-called expert hinted it’s all about money.

He said while it’s nice that players are getting free educations, some can’t even afford to buy a pizza.

Yeah, we’re headed for compensation for the players. It’s not a bad idea. Because of practice, travel and playing demands, most don’t have time for side jobs.

Money for pizza, movies and gas for the car is more practical than unionization and paying dues.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at The opinions are the writer’s.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Times

Featured Businesses

Submit a Letter to Editor

We welcome letters from readers on any issue of public interest, and make every effort to publish as many as we can and in a timely manner. The Times will publish only one letter a month from a writer, and be sure to include your name, address and a telephone number for verification. Letters should be 150 words or less. They will be edited.

Letters may be submitted:
  • Via our submission form.
  • Via e-mail.
  • Via fax: (219) 933-3249 or (219) 465-7298
  • Via mail or by hand to our offices:
    • 601 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321
    • 2080 N. Main St., Crown Point, IN 46307
    • 1111 Glendale Blvd., Valparaiso, IN 46383
    • 3410 Delta Dr., Portage, IN 46368
    • Please mark envelopes with "Attn: Letters"


Email Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross or call (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357



Is a town marshal needed in Winfield?

View Results