Diebold: Justice is never convenient

Diebold: Justice is never convenient

Joseph Diebold, Managing Editor

A troubling thread has emerged lately in the conversation surrounding the National Labor Relations Board hearing to determine whether Northwestern’s football players can organize as a union: the notion that NU is being unfairly thrown under the bus by former quarterback Kain Colter and the College Athletes Players Association.

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg (Medill ’03)  wrote he agrees “with much of what the CAPA wants for football players” but that “(t)here are better examples of the restrictions/injustices college football players face and there are plenty of football factories around the country.” Former NU fencer Dayana Sarkisova tweeted that “seeing NU unfairly become the sacrificial lamb is nothing short of painful.” Seth Gruen of the Chicago Sun-Times thought Colter’s “anger overshadowed an issue that deserves more thought-out representation.” 

Each of these reactions admits that a system in which athletic departments like NU’s make millions of dollars on the backs of players without compensation or even the guarantee of future health is unjust. But the battle for justice cannot afford to be fought at the convenience of the powerful.

A crucial point of NU’s argument last week was that even if CAPA wins, many of their reforms will be difficult to reconcile with NCAA rules. It is the NCAA, the University argues, which must change before the schools can.

But NU did not have to fight back in this case. When the school admitted it supported the players’ goals but not their methods, it took the same dreaded half measure as many of the reactions have over the past two weeks and asked the question: Why us?

Yes, others do it worse. But a school as aspirational as this one should strive for more than the best of a broken system that has no incentive to give players a seat at the table.

The NCAA is sitting on a cash cow, with the new-look playoff set to bring in even more money. Only a judge’s order, or a radical change in the way we understand the relationship between athlete and university, can compel the institution running the best bargain in sports to change its ways. That’s what Colter and his teammates are fighting for.

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know what the outcome will be of the hearing, which wraps up this week. But as a classmate of Colter’s, he deserves better than the treatment he has gotten from the public.

No matter what, this case will not hurt the university many of us know and love. Little is at stake here for NU. No matter what happens, when September rolls around Pat Fitzgerald will still have his job, each Wildcat loss will still come in heartbreaking fashion and fans will still fill Ryan Field.

But if CAPA wins, I’ll feel a little bit better about being in the stands with them.

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Twitter: @JosephDiebold