Football: Players open up about unionization at spring practice

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

Saturday’s public spring practice was ostensibly an opportunity for the Wildcats to invite fans into their preparation for the fall season.

But it also became another forum for the ongoing debate about unionization at Northwestern.

Several players opened up about the subject after practice.

Sophomore safety Traveon Henry, wearing an “All Players United” wristband, said the team is divided in opinion about the union right now but is working to gather as much information as possible.

“Everybody’s an individual, everybody is going to do what they’re going to do,” Henry said. “But as a team, we’re getting a good sense of where we all stand with the situation.”

Having been declared employees by the National Labor Relations Board last month, the players will vote on April 25 about whether to form a union.

Most players who have spoken about the union this spring have either explicitly or implicitly suggested they were leaning toward voting no. Henry seemed to have a slightly different perspective.

The safety said he has been in touch with former NU quarterback and College Athletes Players Association mouthpiece Kain Colter in recent weeks and seemed to imply support for Colter and his cause.

“He’s still pro-union, and he still wants to get this done,” Henry said. “He’s very strong about it. He’s really trying to protect the players. That’s really his main cause: trying to provide protections for the players.”

Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian, who has been vocally anti-union all spring, said the players had incomplete information when they first signed union cards back in January.

“Did I feel misled? I don’t know,” Siemian said. “I definitely feel I didn’t have enough information to make the decision that I did. And I’m not the only one who feels that way. So in that sense yeah, but shame on me for not gathering enough information I needed to make a decision.”

Henry somewhat refuted Siemian’s assertion, saying the players weren’t quite misled but more just taken by surprise. He said they didn’t have a sense of how “impactful” the union would be and were then a little shocked when it became a national story.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he supports “change” but doesn’t believe in the avenue CAPA has chosen to take.

“I’m very proud of our guys for stepping up for raising national issues. But that’s not what this is about,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s my continual education to the guys. There are mechanisms for change, and I think it’s been well-documented that I’m an advocate for change. I just don’t believe unionization is the way to go.”

Some have worried the union talks will divide the team into conflicting camps, but Henry spoke of the opposite effect.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how much what we’re going through has brought up together as a team,” he said. “Now we have an open line of communication. No one’s afraid to speak up. I’ve heard voices that I’ve never heard before speak up and voice their opinion.”

Junior wide receiver Christian Jones did not say which side of the debate he leans toward but said he and the rest of the team are doing their best to balance information gathering and football obligations.

The players will be ready for April 25.

“We’ve all been encouraged to do research and ask questions,” Jones said. “The entire team has done a good job of that. We’ve all made sure we know the facts and we know what’s going on with each side so we all make a good, informed decision.”

After the union election, the results will be impounded until the national NLRB office rules on NU’s appeal of the players’ employee status.

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02