Career Calling

April 6, 2014

Million Dollar Coaches, Student Athletes, and “Trust”


Pat Fitzgerald is a great football coach. He also seems to be a good man who wants to teach his players values. However, in coming out against his players joining a union, he is acting in a way that raises some hard questions that the coach does not answer. According to the players, their goal is to improve health care and academic opportunities, not salary. Coaches like Fitzgerald often make more than a million dollars a year. Fitzgerald said that unionizing is not in the players’ “best interest” and that all issues could be worked out through “communication” and “trust.”


The problem with this approach is that it leaves the individual player at the mercy of two powerful institutions: the university that grants his/her scholarship and the NCAA. It’s easy for the employer or the school to say, “Trust me. I’m doing what’s in your best interest.” According the Collegiate Athletes Players Association (CAPA), players have been punished by the NCAA for accepting food. Some universities have done little to help players who suffered injuries that will affect them for the rest of their lives. According an article in Huffington Post, Northwestern recently opened a $225 million athletic facility. According to USA Today, Coach Fitzgerald’s annual compensation is $2.2 million. College sports generates big money. College sports has a union to protect its interest: the NCAA, which generates $433 million a year in revenue just by selling rights.


In this system, shouldn’t the players be allowed to have a unified voice that lets them protect their interest? Then again, most workers in America today have no protection. Maybe the young men on Northwestern’s football team will set a good example for the country. Until working people find a way to support each other, we will all be at the mercy of a system based on “trust.”


PS: In 2011, South Park put much of this debate in a hilarious perspective, especially the definition of student-athlete.


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