Football: Colter explains APU armbands, Fitzgerald voices displeasure
Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor
September 26, 2013 •
Northwestern senior quarterback Kain Colter has taken a leadership role on a hot-button issue, though his coach isn't thrilled with how he did so.
Speaking after practice Wednesday, Colter explained his thinking behind writing “APU,” which stands for “All Players United,” on his armbands during the Wildcats' game against Maine on Saturday. The three-letter protest made him one of the faces of a budding national movement for college athletes' rights. The letters represent the first-ever player-driven push to ensure athletes' voices are heard. The National College Players Association, started in 2001 by former college linebacker Ramogi Huma, is the central force behind the movement.
On Saturday, the protest included players from Georgia and Georgia Tech, in addition to Colter and several other NU players the quarterback wouldn’t name, all of whom donned "APU" on their arms.
“It’s a sign of unity, not individuality,” Colter said. “It’s a sign of players coming together all over the nation — not just football players — basketball players, tennis players, being able to have our opinions heard and our needs met.”
Colter said he has been involved with the NCPA since early summer and participates in conference calls with players from across the country, in which they came up with the idea for the APU armbands. The senior, who has spoken about mistreatment of college athletes in the past, said Wednesday that the APU movement is not about one particular issue but that post-college medical care is an important one for him.
“One of the biggest issues is that I feel like there needs to be a guarantee that players aren’t stuck with medical bills after they leave,” he said. “With long-lasting injuries that they suffer from football, essentially they’re being hurt on the job, and then they’re stuck with the medical bills if they do need a surgery or something down the line.”
A federal antitrust lawsuit originally filed in 2009 by former University of California Los Angeles basketball star Ed O’Bannon alleges the NCAA, EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Co. violate antitrust laws by using player likenesses in video games without compensating the athletes. The NCAA has also come under fire for profiting from jersey sales and television revenue, again to no financial gain for the players. Some fans and commentators also advocate paying athletes salaries on top of their scholarships.
Fitzgerald, who attempted to limit Colter's time with the media Wednesday, said he supported the quarterback’s APU stance but wished Colter had raised the issue through usual team channels.
“We discuss things that happen as a team through our leadership council, and typically that’s the way I like things done,” he said. “I’m fully in support of what he’s doing, I just would like it to be within the team structure.”
But Colter said wearing the armbands was important, with or without Fitzgerald's blessing.
“I’m sure that he felt a little blindsided by it,” Colter said. “But in my perspective, it’s tough to ask permission to be able to do something, just because there’s a chance it could be shot down. The whole APU thing, it goes against having to ask permission to voice our opinions.”
Colter would not say whether he will wear the APU initials for future games but indicated he would be more likely to continue if the protest became a team effort. He said the NCPA does not have any other protests currently planned, but the organization is pushing the hashtag "#APU" on social media and spreading an online petition denouncing "unjust NCAA rules that leave college athletes without basic protections." Regardless of his future public involvement with the NCPA, Colter said he will stand by his opinions and is happy with the attention the movement has received.
“I’m just glad it’s sparking conversation now,” he said. “I’m not going to have any individual benefit from this. I’m going to be gone after this year, and there’s not going to be any changes made before I leave. So this is for the guys I play with, for all the guys around the nation, the younger guys, so that hopefully some changes can be made by the time they come through.”