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Sheena Harrison

Could Northwestern University athlete unionization pave way for player comp claims?

February 7, 2014 - 3:38pm


A push from the Northwestern University football team to unionize its players will be an interesting issue to watch for the workers compensation arena, particularly in light of concussion claims filed by National Football League players in recent years.

"Nearly 100%" of Northwestern's scholarship football players have filed union cards with the National Labor Relations Board, the College Athletes Players Association told Crain's Chicago Business last week. The athletes reportedly hope for increased representation in regards to scholarships and concussion-related injuries.

Officials from Northwestern and the NCAA oppose the unionization effort, according to statements obtained by Crain's, which is a sister publication of Business Insurance.

Several outlets note that the move by Northwestern players could change their status to those of employees, rather than student-athletes, which in turn could make them eligible for workers comp benefits.

In a letter of support for Northwestern players this week, the University of California Student-Worker Union highlighted a 1953 Colorado Supreme Court decision that found a University of Denver football player was a university employee and eligible for workers comp benefits.

The NCAA began requiring universities to classify players as "student-athletes" in the aftermath of that case, ESPN.com reports.

In light of the NFL's proposed $765 million settlement with former players who suffered concussion-related injuries, as well as various workers comp claims filed by players in states such as California and Maryland, it's safe to assume that collegiate athletes will have much more at stake than scholarship money if Northwestern players are successful in redefining themselves as workers.