ESPN’s Jason Whitlock And Kevin Blackistone Discuss NLRB Ruling Allowing Northwestern Football Players To Unionize


Roland Martin discusses the National Labor Relations Board Director’s ruling that Northwestern can unionize its football team with ESPN’s Jason Whitlock and Kevin Blackistone.

“This is not about salaries. What these players are talking about is workers compensation and protection of scholarships should they get hurt and healthcare down the line,” says Blackistone.

Jason Whitlock continued with, “we’ll no longer call these players student athletes but we’ll call them student employees and they’ll have the rights as employee.”

Read the entire interview below:

ROLAND MARTIN: Hey folks, good morning. Hey, Tom, call this the sports report. Earlier this week the National Labor Relations Board Director in Chicago ruled that Northwestern can unionize, it’s football team, can unionize. It sent shockwaves throughout college football. And, of course, also yesterday we saw the story of Kobe Bryant, his comments in The New Yorker. I want to first deal with Northwestern. Kevin Blackistone, University of Maryland Professor, also you see him on Around The Horn on ESPN, also Jason Whitlock with ESPN. Both of them join us right now. Kevin, Jason, what up?


JASON WHITLOCK: What’s happening?

ROLAND MARTIN: All right, first of all, Kevin, I’ll go to you first. Northwestern, this is a major, major deal that the ruling that they allow to unionize, it was a very tight ruling and it’s going to be difficult for Northwestern to appeal this. What does this mean for college football?

JASON WHITLOCK: Well, it’s just another swing of the sledgehammer at the inequities system that is college athletics when it comes to revenue generating sports. This comes on the heels of Jeffrey Tesler, the lawyer, his lawsuit against the anti-trust provisions that the NCAA has. This comes on the heels of the APU movement, from which this filing with the labor relations board was born. This comes on the heels of the Ed O’Bannon case, which is yet to be settled, which threatens the NCAA with tens of millions of dollars. This comes on the heels of the EA sports settlement about the usage of college athletes’ likenesses to sell games. So this is a continued erosion, but a legal attempt to erode the foundation of the NCAA which is a long time coming.

TOM JOYNER: But what’s going to be the salary?

JASON WHITLOCK: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Salary? We’re not even talking about salary.

ROLAND MARTIN: Yeah, we haven’t gotten to salary …

JASON WHITLOCK: Salary is not, and in fact that’s an unfortunate misreported piece of this story by the media.

TOM JOYNER: How are you going to unionize without a salary?

JASON WHITLOCK: Because this is not about salaries. What these players, Kain Colter, Ramogi Huma has been dealing with this since the late ‘90s when he was a player in UCLA when I first talked to him. What they’re already talking about right now, the main thing is, worker’s compensation and protection of scholarships should they get hurt so that coaches and athletic directors just don’t kick them off the team and …

ROLAND MARTIN: And also healthcare.

JASON WHITLOCK: … after they draft them there with a whole bunch of – and healthcare down the line – as they drag them there with a whole bunch of sweet whispers in their ear.


JASON WHITLOCK: But this isn’t really about pay yet. That’s just a scare tactic.

ROLAND MARTIN: Jason, in the ruling, the NLRB Director said that coaches control these players’ lives so much in terms of workout time, study time, that he said this is essentially, they are essentially employees of the university.

JASON WHITLOCK: That’s what I think the key thing is here, defining these athletes as employees. Because what’s, how you’re defined dictates the actions that people take toward you and the way you see yourself, and so we’ll no longer call these guy student athletes, we’ll call them student employees, and they’ll have the rights of employees and that’s very important as we move away from amateur athletics, which has been a sham. We need to understand amateur athletics was created at its outset to keep the poor away from sports. Because when it was brought into effect only the people who had leisure time and lots of money could afford to be amateurs. They didn’t want working class people to be athletes, so they came up with this system of amateur athletics. It’s been a system steeped in exploitation and exclusion from the very beginning. So this is just a wonderful day and as Kevin detailed it’s just another piece of the puzzle of destroying the system and it’s important.

TOM JOYNER: It just sounds like, to me, it’s amateur athletics with benefits now. Because you’re not getting paid. Yeah, the schools are getting paid, everybody else is getting paid, but now you have benefits …


JASON WHITLOCK: Are you knocking friends with benefits? Are you knocking friends with benefits? (Laughter)

ROLAND MARTIN: And Kevin, in the back of the room, that’s really what he laid out.


ROLAND MARTIN: In terms of the Director. And in fact Northwestern is going to appeal. This is going to go to Washington, D.C. for the National Labor Relations Board. Lester Munson of, a brilliant legal writer, he said that this is a very tight, tightly written ruling and it’s going to be hard for Northwestern to overturn this.

SYBIL WILKS: How long do you think this will take for everything? Will this be years and years and years?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Well, if the NCAA and the people who are making millions of dollars off these athletes are really, really smart it wouldn’t take long. What they would do is invite them to a table and work out a deal before it winds up getting into the sports system. Because if it gets deep into the sports system I don’t think they’re going to win this deal. Just a few years ago a couple of law professors in Michigan State, Robert and Amy McCormmick did a most recent study on this whole thing. And they basically looked at all this data in terms of what revenue generating college athletes do, and compared it to the rules in the United States for what defines an employee. And they found that in every circumstance these athletes looked like employees as defined by the United States law. So I think it’s going to be really hard for Northwestern to overturn it. I think that they’ll find, you know, a judge along the way who will side with them and if this thing will work its way through the pipeline and wind up right here in Washington, D.C. at the Supreme Court.

JASON WHITLOCK: Kevin, I just want to add this, I think if they want to be fair they will settle quickly.


JASON WHITLOCK: The smart thing to do is to delay and make as much money and continue the exploitation as long as they can.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Exactly. I mean the NCAA tournament this month is pulling in $1.12 billion dollars. That’s not going to the players; $1.12 billion dollars. College football coaches and college basketball coaches are the highest paid public employees in 30 states in this country. And let’s not forget something, this is a racial issue, because the people that control college athletics …

TOM JOYNER: There we go.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: … are white men.

TOM JOYNER: Yeah. Play the card, that’s right.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: And the majority of the laborers …

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: … the majority of the laborers are black boys. So let’s not, let’s not get this confused.

TOM JOYNER: Why do you always got to play the card?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: I want to play the card even further because this is what people don’t understand about college athletics. The revenue generating sports are predominantly black athletes. The welfare sports that they support are predominantly white kids. That’s what we’ve never understood. They make the money with football and basketball and then they spend it on soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, softball, baseball. Everything that we aren’t playing in high numbers that’s where they spend the money.

ROLAND MARTIN: We did not get to it, Kevin, Jason, can you come back Monday to talk Kobe Bryant?




TOM JOYNER: And put that big junk on your forehead when you play that card again, huh? (Laughter)

ROLAND MARTIN: So we will talk about Kobe Bryant with Jason Whitlock and Kevin Blackenstone Monday here on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

SYBIL WILKS: Good job, guys.