Kain Colter addresses the media on Tuesday in Chicago with Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard in the background. (David Banks / Getty Images)

For the first time in the history of college sports, athletes are taking formal steps in an effort to be represented by a labor union.

The movement is being led by Northwestern University’s football team and quarterback Kain Colter, who called Tuesday a “historic day” as paperwork was filed on behalf of the Wildcats at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who is president of the National College Players Association, filed the paperwork, according to Tom Farrey of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

“This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table,” Huma told ESPN. “Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections.”

Filing the paperwork requires approval of at least 30 percent of employees and the next step is a formal election supervised by the NLRB. Huma said only that an “overwhelming majority” of Northwestern players had signed.

“The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern,” Colter told ESPN. “We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players — at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come.

“Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”

Colter, who finished his athletic career in December, isn’t expecting swift action. “Everything now is in the hands of the lawyers,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re not expecting a decision to be made right away. It might take a year or two or go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The NCAA opposes, not surprisingly, the prospect of pay-for-play for college students. It issued a statement from chief legal officer Donald Remy:

This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.

Many student athletes are provided scholarships and many other benefits for their participation. There is no employment relationship between the NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes.

Student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are confident the National Labor Relations Board will find in our favor, as there is no right to organize student-athletes.