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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar argues for college athlete unions

Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images

Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a column published Sunday in the Los Angeles Register advocating college athlete unionization.

Abdul-Jabbar, 67, has been outspoken in his conviction that college athletes should be paid.

In the column, he writes: "Without a union, these student-athletes will be without any advocates and will always be at the whim of the NCAA and the colleges and universities that profit from them."

Abdul-Jabbar points to massive broadcast rights revenues and the exorbitant salaries of NCAA president Mark Emmert and top basketball coaches.

While these coaches and executives may deserve these amounts, they shouldn’t earn them while the 18- to 21-year-old kid who plays every game and risks a permanent career-ending injury gets only scholarship money – money that can be taken away if the player is injured and can’t contribute to the team anymore.

The irony is that the NCAA and other supporters claim it will change the purity of college sports by desecrating our image of it as a youthful clash of school rivalries that always ends at the malt shop with school songs being sung and innocent flirting between boys in letterman jackets and girls with pert ponytails and chastity rings.

By treating the athletes like indentured servants, we’re tarnishing that symbol and reducing college sports to just another exploitation of workers, no better than a sweat shop.

The National Labor Relations Board has granted Northwestern's request to review a March ruling from a regional director of the NLRB that granted the school's scholarship football players employee status. The timeline for the NLRB's decision is not known.

More: Northwestern union vote intriguing, but NLRB ruling more significant

At his annual Final Four news conference, Emmert described college athlete unionization as a 'grossly inappropriate' solution to the issues facing college sports. 

Abdul-Jabbar earned six NBA Most Valuable Player awards and averaged 24.6 points and 11.2 rebounds over 14 seasons with the Bucks and Lakers. He was a three-time National Player of the Year at UCLA.

- Chris Johnson

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