Football Players Make Several Points

On the heels of my previous entry comes a story that has been bubbling in the news over the last week or so. It clearly demonstrates why studying in a liberal arts curriculum can be dangerous…to people in power:

Kain Colter is a senior at Northwestern University, a pre-med student majoring in psychology with a 3.1 grade-point average. For the last two years, he has also been the starting quarterback for the university’s football team, where he has shown himself to be a real leader and, in the words of his academic adviser, “a wonderful example of a true student-athlete.”

One of the classes he took at Northwestern was about the modern workplace. “We were talking about unions,” he recalls. “About the steelworkers’ union, and the professional sports unions. And the teacher said it was too bad you guys don’t have the kind of protections a union can negotiate.” By “you guys,” of course, the professor meant college athletes. The lightbulb went on in Colter’s head.

As an illustration of the power of an education, this story is downright heartwarming. But it could be a lot more. There is at least a chance — one doesn’t want to get too carried away at this early stage — that it could wind up triggering a momentous change in the way big-time college athletics operates. On Tuesday, Colter and the majority of his teammates petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for the right to form a union.

 A psychology major challenging the revered notion of the “student athlete!” Imagine! And where did he get such a dastardly idea? In a class at Northwestern. Many have lamented the state of college athletics for years, calling for everything from professionalizing them to eliminating them altogether. Now, an idea from a class discussion (led, undoubtedly, by some “tenured radical”) has inspired someone to stand up for the rights of students who sometimes are treated as little more than disposable gladiators. 

The NCAA hasn’t been doing a very good job protecting these students; maybe it’s time they took a stand for themselves. You can read the whole op-ed piece by Joe Nocera in the New York Times here.

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Kain Colter playing for the Northwestern Wildcats.