Tempers flared Wednesday night, as more than 60 current and former Northwestern football players met, ostensibly to discuss their position on the ongoing NU football unionization saga.
The meeting almost immediately got heated, as the organizers and other alumni butted heads over what exactly was the purpose of the gathering.
Organizers, including former players Kevin Brown, Alex Moyer, Tracy Parsons and Todd Jenkins, said off the bat the meeting wasn’t about the union but rather the general idea of NU athletes’ rights. This was met with disagreement from numerous alumni in the crowd, one of whom protested, “It’s all about the union.”
Brown said he and others recently met with coach Pat Fitzgerald for two and a half hours to address some alumni concerns, such as the treatment of former quarterback Kain Colter and threats made to current players.
The former defensive back said former players have contacted current players, saying if they vote “yes” for the union on April 25 they will lose out on employment opportunities and other benefits of the football alumni network.
“We felt there was corrosion taking place,” Parsons said afterward.
The meeting with Fitzgerald was harmonious, Brown said, with the coach saying, “You know my past. I’m for change.”
But several former players in the crowd dismissed the issues raised by organizers, saying football alumni should have a voice in the decisions of current players regarding the union.
Almost everyone who spoke up seemed in agreement that a union was not the proper way to deal with issues confronting college athletes. Brown suggested the union could interfere with the football program, but did not voice his personal opinion on the subject.
“We love Coach Fitzgerald. We love him because he’s brought us all together. We love him because of what he’s done for his program. We love him because we’re winning,” Brown said. “There’s nothing anyone here would do to interfere with that.”
Former NU quarterback Steve Schnur, who led the Cats to the 1996 Rose Bowl, said afterward most former players he has spoken to oppose unionization.
Schnur said he thinks Colter could have gotten better counsel about how to enact change and should have allowed players access to perspectives on both sides of the issue before presenting them with union cards.
Other than the organizers of the meeting, Schnur said, everyone in attendance seemed to agree on one fundamental point.
“We’re unified in the fact that change is needed at the NCAA level,” Schnur said afterward. “But it’s inappropriate for college athletes to unionize against their university.”
At one point, conversation turned toward the media, at which point all media members in attendance were asked to leave the room.
Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian, junior center Brandon Vitabile and junior linebacker Colin Ellis were among roughly half a dozen current players in attendance at the meeting. Seniors Jeff Budzien and Mike Trumpy, who exhausted their eligibility last fall, were also present.
No current players spoke publicly, though the father of sophomore superback Malin Jones spoke up, suggesting the conversation focus on the union above all.
Both the organizers and the attendees who objected to their pretenses for the meeting said it was worthwhile to have a discussion among former players.
“We got a chance to talk about how we move forward as a Northwestern family,” Parsons said.
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