College Football Players Literally Fighting for their Right to Survive


American football is as much a contact sport as his humanly possible. Whereas in other sports, contact is sometimes encouraged and/or advantageous in regards to the situation, football sees at least a dozen guys getting to know each other, up close and personal on every single play.

Contact sports and social distancing go together like a Trump press conference and the absence of embarassing, clueless stupidity. Football will have safe social distancing when Quentin Taratino makes a movie without anything extremely disturbing or bloody in it.

rose bowl usc northwestern

As has been painfully clear to anyone paying attention, we’re not getting college football this fall.

It’s inevitable that it’s not going to happen, but the powers that be, aware of how much money is at stake, will keep putting off the season cancellation until the absolute 11th hour.

There are hundreds of millions at dollars involved here and that means the players have tremendous power. This is their moment, the power and leverage of the players as a whole has never been higher.

Anybody who pays attention to college football and has a basic understanding of supply and demand economics knew this moment would come- they are starting to exercise it.

As Upton Sinclair once said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

A coalition representing hundreds of Pac-12 football players formed a “unity movement” and issued their demands relating to player health and safety on Sunday. The list of demands includes revenue sharing, medical coverage for six years after a player’s eligibility expires and a third party, selected by players, to address COVID-19 issues.

They have threatened to walk out on the season if these demands are not met.

Then on Monday, Northwestern, the very school where the movement for college football player rights began six years ago, put their season workouts on pause due to a player testing positive for coronavirus.

NU’s last workout was on Friday, and the earliest they could resume is Wednesday.

Some players have been put into quarantine, and any player who came into close contact with the young man who tested positive must now test negative twice before being cleared to return.


There isn’t a whole lot more known about the situation at this time, as Northwestern athletics have held no media opportunities, not even by Zoom or a teleconference, since the pandemic took control of daily life in March.

Five of the Big Ten’s seven schools in the East Division have had to suspend football activities at some point this summer due to coronavirus outbreaks. Penn State and Michigan are the exceptions. Michigan State put the entire team into quarantine after self-reporting 16 positives among the team.

Rutgers suspended preseason workouts when a super-spreader event, an on-campus party, caused an outbreak among the Scarlet Knights program.

ramogi huma-northwestern

College football does not have a union, they do not have any power to bargain collectively and comparing their situation to the professional ranks is apples to oranges. In the pros, these are grown men who make a living doing what they do, and they have the opportunity to evaluate risk/reward and then decide if they want to opt-out or not.

For college athletes, who make money that they never see a cut of for the institution, their rights are sort of like a modern version of indentured servitude.

Kain Colter, his pro-unionization Northwestern teammates and the organization they joined forces with, CAPA (led by former college athlete Ramogi Huma), probably would have succeeded had there been a real crisis, like the one we’re currently living in, backdropping their political action.


So what is it going to take to for the powers that be to finally shut this thing down? A player in the ICU? On a respirator? Or a situation that’s even worse?

Well, we’ve already unfortunately seen a young college football player get stricken with a serious case of covid, and he may have suffered damage that’s irreparable. Take the case of IU OL Brady Feeney, and listen to the pleas from his mother.

She’s right- you can’t protect yourself fully from this:

The college football players who are stepping up and fighting for their rights are doing what needs to be done. No one else is looking out for them, so they need to make sure to look out for themselves. It’s a reckoning that is a long time coming, and all it took was a global pandemic to make it happen.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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