Players need unbiased vote

Northwestern administrators used shameful tactics to keep players from voting for a union.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled last month that Northwestern University football players with scholarships were employees and have the right to form a union. This ruling set off a wave of criticism among some, optimism among others and speculation of all kinds.

However, the NLRB’s ruling won’t have much significance in the near future if Northwestern players vote against forming a union. But if players support unionization, it’s likely that Northwestern won’t recognize it and will refuse to bargain. If that happens, the dispute would likely make its way into the U.S. Courts of Appeal.

Northwestern could avoid all of this if players vote down a union, which is why Northwestern officials went to great lengths in its campaign to defeat a union before players voted Friday. It’s uncertain when the university will release the results.

The New York Times reported that players received new iPads on the first day of practice after the NLRB decision. Of course, Northwestern staff said the iPads were unrelated to the decision and that they had planned on distributing them for months. That same afternoon, coaching staff took players to a bowling alley for a team party.

The players have also received stern warnings from former players and Northwestern officials, including coach Pat Fitzgerald. In an email to the team, Fitzgerald said by voting for a union, the players would be transferring their trust from coaches and administrators to “a third party who may or may not have the team’s best interests in mind,” the Times reported.

We are unconvinced that unions are the best way to reform the NCAA. However, Northwestern players should feel free to vote however they like without pressure and intimidation from coaches and school administrators. By behaving this way, universities are, yet again, treating student-athletes like pawns working on behalf of coaches and officials who make millions off of their sport. Fitzgerald and others should have remained neutral on the decision.