SBD/February 19, 2014/Colleges

Northwestern's Colter Testifies In NLRB Hearing, Says Football Kept Him From Academics

Colter likened his workload on the football team to that of the military
Former Northwestern Univ. QB Kain Colter yesterday at a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Chicago "detailed a grueling football schedule that he contends didn't allow him to pursue his dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon," according to a front-page piece by Cancino & Greenstein of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Colter was the "key witness of the College Athletes Players Association, a recently formed union that filed an election petition" last month with the NLRB. The CAPA is "seeking to unionize Northwestern football players who receive scholarships." Colter "is the only player expected to testify before an NLRB hearing officer in Chicago." He said, "It truly is a job. There is no way around it." Colter "spoke of 50- to 60-hour workweeks for players." Colter: "I like to think of it like the military/Navy SEALS. They spend months and weeks preparing for operations." He said that in exchange for his labor, he "receives about $75,000 in compensation, including tuition and a monthly stipend for room and board." He added that this figure "was in a form Northwestern sent to his parents." NU attorney Anna Wermuth during cross examination "asked Colter if he received a check from the university to pay for his tuition." He responded, "The university pays itself." When asked if he paid taxes on the stipend or tuition, Colter responded, "I have no idea." He "kept calm during the more than five hours of detailed questions from attorneys on both sides," and he "listened attentively to questions and kept his answers short." Colter was asked if he thought there was nothing educational about playing football and responded that he "learned human values, but football didn't help him learn chemistry" Cancino & Greenstein note, "As an employer, the burden falls on Northwestern to prove its stance that student-athletes are first, foremost and always students as opposed to employees" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/19).

WORK OR PLAY? In N.Y., Ben Strauss writes NU lawyers yesterday "painted Colter as a football player who has benefited greatly from his educational experience, and argued that athletics and academics go hand-in-hand" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/19). In Chicago, Sandra Guy notes Colter "detailed restrictions that govern football players, such as being required to obtain their own medical insurance or to buy primary or secondary insurance from a company sanctioned by Northwestern; being unable to sign autographs except those requested by the university, and being careful what they post on Twitter, Facebook and other social media." Yesterday's hearing "was moved to the Dirksen Federal Building from the NLRB’s regional office to provide more space for the media and an audience of lawyers, students, university officials, season ticket-holders and others" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/19).'s Lester Munson noted Colter "repeatedly used the words 'job' and 'paycheck' as he described the near total control football coaches had over him during four years at Northwestern." The hearing also featured a "surprising concession" from NU attorney Alex Barbour, as he conceded that the NLRB "could conclude that college athletes may be employees." Barbour said if the board decides that the players are employees, then they are "temporary employees." Munson noted temporary employees under U.S. labor law "are not permitted to form a union." This "was a remarkable suggestion and the first acknowledgement from the school that the players may have a chance to succeed" (, 2/18). In California, Mark Whicker writes under the header, "One Small Step Toward Giant Reform With NCAA" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 2/19).

BE TRUE TO YOUR SCHOOL: In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein writes Colter yesterday "repeatedly attacked the heart" of NU's football program. Colter said that the program "steers its best and brightest into less challenging majors" so they have more time to focus on football. Colter: "We’re basically not allowed to schedule things that conflict with football practice. It shows we are brought in to play football … if you can, fit in the academics." Greenstein writes CAPA chose Colter because he is "bright and eloquent -- and eager for a fight" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/19).'s Adam Rittenberg wrote yesterday was a "day of heavy scrutiny" for NU football, a program that "prides itself -- and is viewed -- as doing things the right way." But it is "hard to buy Northwestern as ground zero for this movement." Colter "lost a lot of people with his Navy SEALs/football comparison." Rittenberg: "He lost me a lot earlier." Still, Colter is an "impressive spokesman who had the courage to speak out, even if he has damaged his relationship with the program" (, 2/18). In Chicago, Seth Gruen writes, "By slinging mud toward the university from which he will earn his degree," Colter "has gone about lobbying for the issue in the wrong way." Colter yesterday "went from being well-spoken to belligerently grandstanding." He "made some excellent points about the overwhelming amount of time he dedicated to football," but his "reckless accusations undermined those efforts." His assertion that NU football players "are limited in their majors and course selections is preposterous at a university that gives its student-athletes priority registration" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/19). Colter, when asked by CAPA attorney John Adam whether he thinks college athletes get a free ride, responded, "I absolutely hate when people use the term free ride. We earn everything we're given through blood, sweat and tears" (, 2/18). 
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