Nadkarni: Northwestern’s ‘football family’ in public mess

Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter

Northwestern’s hearing in the union case with the College Athletes Players Association was moved from the National Labor Relations Board office to a courtroom starting Tuesday due to an increased interest in the case.

The move also made sense for another gruesome reason: The hearing has often taken the tone of a messy divorce proceeding fit for daytime television.

In nearly 18 hours of testimony — give or take two for lunch — NU and CAPA have battled each other fiercely. First, it was former quarterback Kain Colter taking on his own school. By the end of Tuesday, associate athletic director for compliance Brian Baptiste was specifically referencing Colter in an attempt to protect the current system in place for NU athletes.

This isn’t about taking sides. From my experiences the past two days, I’ve realized that watching two sides you love go head-to-head is tough to take in. It’s like watching a family falling apart in front of your eyes.

NU isn’t a perfect school. And by being an active participant in the NCAA, NU welcomes questioning of a system that makes billions of dollars on the backs of athletes without giving them any of that profit in return. Outside of athletics, we’ve all had complaints about this school and the stress it can put on our lives.

But I chose to don purple for a reason. I still love this university, and although I can only judge from my personal interactions, I have also found Pat Fitzgerald and Jim Phillips to be respected men who genuinely care about the athletes they oversee.

At the same time, I appreciate what Colter did on the field. Not only was he a jack-of-all-trades on offense, but off the field, he’s an aspiring doctor leading a historical movement. He represents the best qualities of our student body.

(Nadkarni: Welcome to another day at Northwestern)

This has made the mud-slinging of the NLRB hearing shocking.

Colter, who insists he loved his time in Evanston, can’t help but portray a negative experience through his testimony. He’s taken shots at NU for burning his redshirt his freshman year, halting his academic progress and mistreating his ankle injury.

On the other side, NU has tried to discredit Colter’s claims and continues to try to blame the players’ problems on to the NCAA instead of shouldering any of that blame itself.

Through the conversations I’ve had with people at the hearing as well as some former players, it’s clear the damage from the case is irreparable. Colter won’t be welcome back to NU any time soon.

The athletic department must feel betrayed. Colter is revealing internal information from the football program that higher-ups feel are half-truths at best. In a chilling twist of irony, Colter’s status on the team’s leadership council in part helped him gather the players necessary to unionize.

For Colter, it must be disheartening to realize that he — the starting quarterback in the Wildcats’ first bowl win since 1949 — is a source of anger for those he used to play for.

I don’t have a horse in this race. I’ve heard arguments from each side of the case, and I understand the motivations of every person involved.

But I do know that watching this fight, which is essentially Northwestern vs. Northwestern, has elicited many emotions. It’s been, at various times, fascinating, shocking, boring and convincing.

Most of all, it’s just been sad.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Rohan_NU