NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A sparkling glimmer of hope was ignited by a group of Pac-12 football players on August 2nd with the issuance of their “Pac-12 Football Unity Demands.” The Drake Group applauds the courage and efforts of these players to bring public attention to their health and safety concerns during this pandemic and the ongoing educational and economic exploitation of college athletes.
Professional athletes have player associations (unions) and collective bargaining agreements to protect them. College athletes have not been able to unionize because they are not employees. Fearful that coaches and administrators will retaliate if they criticize or disobey, individual athletes have rightfully feared speaking out. The NCAA and the Football Bowl Subdivision have failed them, continuing to act as a trade association advancing the commercial interests of big-time athletic programs rather than athlete protection. Lavishly paid coaches and athletic administrators have put their own financial self-interest above the health, wellness and education of their players, particularly those who participate in basketball and football programs. College and university presidents have easily bowed to the wishes of wealthy donors and trustees who want winning teams, in almost total disregard of the unsustainable costs of the Division I football and basketball arms races. The June decisions by many top football and basketball schools to bring fall sport athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts in the midst of a deadly pandemic, and their insistence today in playing football this fall with fans in the stands, is further proof of such disregard.
There are few precedents for the Pac-12 player action, only isolated successful instances of a football team at a single institution threatening not to play on a Saturday afternoon. In 2013, at Grambling State University, football players did so in protest over a dangerous strength training facility. In 2015, Missouri football players stood in solidarity with student peers in protest of racism on campus. In 2014, football players at Northwestern University unsuccessfully attempted to unionize. The Pac-12 football players initiative is different, signed by 12 players representing nine of the twelve Pac-12 schools.
The players should be applauded for organizing and acting together. The Drake Group encourages all athletes to use their freedom of speech to press for collegiate athletics reform.