The Government Just Opened The Door For College Football Unions

Calling student-athletes "employees" would change everything

Last month, when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that “student assistants who perform work at the direction of their university for which they are compensated” are, in fact, “statutory employees,” it was a breakthrough victory for graduate student employees at private universities, who now have the right to unionize and collectively bargain. But the board’s decision affording these rights to graduate assistants at Columbia University also excited another group of college students: athletes.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh shit,’” Kirsten Hextrum, a former national champion rower for the University of California, Berkeley, tells GOOD. “‘This is huge.’”

Hextrum, who currently is pursuing a Ph.D at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, knows as well as anyone the problems with the NCAA’s current student-athlete system. She has worked in the school’s Athletic Study Center as a tutor and academic advisor, and has devoted her graduate research to institutional conflicts within the student-athlete experience. She also has been a teaching assistant. Hextrum says graduate student employees are a good analogy for scholarshipped athletes.

“It’s similar to high-level athletics in that it’s this all-consuming thing,” Hextrum says. Both types of students take on required time-intensive work, to the university’s financial benefit, in order to attend school. The main difference, she says, is the level of institutional support. “I didn’t have an HR department as a student-athlete. There isn’t an infrastructure around that.“

Until August’s NLRB ruling, that infrastructure didn’t exist for graduate students at private universities either, leaving teaching and research assistants susceptible to unfair pay, inadequate healthcare, and other non-negotiable problems. The labor board had previously ruled in 2004 that graduate students can’t be considered employees because they “have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.” Granting employee status would allegedly destroy the educational relationship.

That 2004 ruling, which rejected Brown University graduate students’ appeal to unionize, is the same legal basis used in arguments against student-athletes. When Northwestern University football players explored the idea of unionizing in 2014, the school used Brown’s definition of “employee” to argue that athletes on scholarship didn’t qualify. But the NLRB’s latest decision overrules that definition, arguing, “Statutory coverage is permitted by virtue of an employment relationship; it is not [blocked] by the existence of some other, additional relationship that the Act does not reach.”

In other words, the definition of “employee” presented in that “Act”—The Fair Labor Standards Act—is prevailing. Those who perform services for universities, under contract, in return for payment—regardless of whether they’re also receiving an education—are finally earning their legal rights. And after graduate students, the next logical benefactors are student-athletes, who also sign contracts (letters of intent) to perform services (sports) in exchange for payment (scholarships and stipends).

“I think that the recent Columbia decision puts the Northwestern issue back in play if the case is brought by Northwestern again, or another private college or university,” Adam Epstein, a sports law professor at Central Michigan University, told GOOD. Last year the NLRB declined to assert jurisdiction in the Northwestern case.

Collective bargaining potentially opens up possibilities around several athlete-related issues, such as practice time, health care, and, yes, compensation. It also could stop schools from depriving educational opportunity to student-athletes.

“Football affected my grades more than being a teaching assistant,” Torin Dupper, who walked onto Northwestern’s team in 2010 and 2011, tells GOOD. Dupper, who currently is working on a chemistry Ph.D at the University of California, Irvine, wasn’t at Northwestern on an athletic scholarship but still experienced the requirements and difficulty in balance associated with intercollegiate athletics. “That’s because I cared about it more, but it was about the same time [commitment].”

Similar to how teaching assistants face pressure to work outside compensated “work hours”—for example, grading student papers—Dupper says that at Northwestern, football sometimes demanded an uncomfortable amount of time, including practices and training sessions that players knew weren’t mandatory, but they couldn’t miss. “We called them ‘optionory.’”

Kyle Roskamp, another chemistry Ph.D. candidate at UC Irvine, who played football for Pomona-Pitzer, tells GOOD that “playing sports [as an undergraduate] was easily more time consuming” than TA’ing as a graduate student, although “having the opportunity to play never felt like a burden.” But even at the Division III level, Roskamp says, football “almost effectively killed any chances of doing research in the fall.”

Student-athletes-turned-graduate-students remain a privileged minority, and these constraints on academic access and success are just one part of the amateurism problem. The point is useful in this context. In determining the legal status of student employees, the NLRB has stopped arguing that campus labor inherently boosts a student’s educational experience. In turn, we should treat that labor like normal work.

Hextrum believes the time is ripe. “This movement keeps continuing for student-athletes to unionize, which it should,” she says. “And I think they will.”


The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.


Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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