I know this won’t be a popular opinion, but give me a chance to explain myself.
I’m sure at least some folks have seen in the news the attempt by Northwestern football players to unionize and I’m rather proud of them.
I was a student athlete in college, and while I wasn’t the most talented, I dedicated a lot of time to the sport I played and to the team of which I was a part.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved playing softball at Northwestern University. The coaches were fantastic and my teammates always supported each other, no matter what else was going on. There were also many perks. We got all kinds of Northwestern swag to wear, we got equipment and we got to travel.
But, it took time and it often comprimised my academic efforts.
Before spending a full day pursuing an academic degree, my teammates and I would wake up for 7 a.m. practice and often head back to the fieldhouse for one-on-one practice later in the day. And that was just during the off-season.
Few student athletes had time for a part-time job and others were not allowed to hold them.
Sure, scholarships would cover tuition, room and board, but allowed for little other spending.
In addition, not every student-athlete is a scholarship athlete. Those who do earn scholarships do not always earn full-ride scholarships.
For example, I was a walk-on athlete. I tried out for the NU softball team on the first day of practice and earned a spot. I had academic scholarships, but didn’t get a partial athletic scholarship until my junior year.
In addition to practice, classes and homework, I also had to earn money through a work study program and a part-time job. I often missed classes due to games and sometimes struggled to catch up on what I missed. Sometimes, tests had to be taken on the road and homework was done on airplanes and buses rather than in the quiet of a library.
Now, the sports in question —primarily basketball and football — operate differently that softball did. For one, they obviously bring in more revenue for the school and the NCAA than softball. Even when my teammates and I made it to the NCAA Women’s College World Series, we didn’t rake in the kind of dough football and basketball do.
I’m not saying student-athletes should be paid on a per hour or per game basis. I believe that is what scholarships are for. But when their likenesses or accomplishments are used in marketing campaigns, in video games and to bring in billions of dollars in advertising revenue, they deserve a piece of that pie. Without them, that pie wouldn’t even exist.
But that isn’t even what my fellow alumni from NU are trying to do. They aren’t asking for pay; they want to talk about things like practice hours and medical care.
Whether the unionization efforts succeed or not, the players who have stepped forward — taking a lot of flak for doing so — have brought to the forefront of our athletic community the need to better consider student-athletes’ needs.