Big Ten Media Days: Northwestern unionization push remains in spotlight


Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald (Paul Beaty/Associated Press)

CHICAGO – A day after he promised “there’s no more unified football program in the country,” Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald found himself again addressing questions Tuesday about Northwestern players’ push for unionization, and just like everything else the former middle linebacker does, he took it on with vigor. His voice was controlled but strong, and at one point when he was talking about the complexity of the situation, he aggressively used hand signals.

“I think to look at it from a football sliver, is a very short-minded approach … this has to be broad-based,” Fitzgerald said, extending his arms wide to get his point across.

Led by former quarterback Kain Colter, a contingent of Northwestern football players spearheaded a formal appeal to the National Labor Relations Board in January, marking the first time college athletes have tried to join a labor union. Colter subsequently testified at a NLRB hearing in February, a step in the fight to establish an employee-employer model between athletes and the school.

Fitzgerald testified against the prospect of unionization earlier this spring, and the Northwestern players cast secret ballots on the issue in April. Those results have not been released.

“Some guys like it, some guys don’t. It’s a part of being a team. It’s part of being a family. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Fitzgerald said, looking ahead to the team’s opener against California on Aug. 30. Northwestern, which started 4-0 last season, lost seven of its last eight games and missed a bowl.

Fitzgerald nonetheless championed the team’s unity in his news conference on Monday. On Tuesday, he admitted that he was “tired” of talking about the issue. There has been no indication of  when the player vote will be revealed, or when a resolution will be made.

“This is the discussional phase,” Fitzgerald said of the process. “I hope the powers that be, the coaches, we have a small piece of it, take off our school hats, take off our conference hats and [do] what’s right for the student-athletes, what’s right for the game, currently and for the future.”

 

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