By Zac Ellis
April 09, 2014

DeMaurice Smith linked the Northwestern cause to early NFLPA efforts to improve working conditions. DeMaurice Smith linked the Northwestern cause to NFLPA efforts to improve work rules. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

The NFL Players Association supports the efforts of Kain Colter and other Northwestern football players in their right to unionize, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wrote in a Huffington Post piece Tuesday.

In the piece, Smith refuted the common argument that Northwestern's players are simply seeking a paycheck. Instead, the head of the NFLPA said there are much more important concerns surrounding student-athletes.

In the more than 100 years since the NCAA was founded, it has not allowed athletes to have a seat at the table to discuss serious issues and therefore has done little to address full medical coverage for injuries sustained, limitations on practice time, scholarship shortfalls and rules to make promised education a reality. These are the real issues for Northwestern's "student athletes," not the classic bait-and-switch argument that recent columns by university presidents and NCAA officials made regarding whether or not college athletes should get paid. These claims, recently published by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal with no rebuttals whatsoever, are not true.

The National Labor Relations Board confirmed last week that Northwestern players will vote on whether or not to seek union representation on April 25. This weekend, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald, who previously testified against Colter and those seeking the right to unionize, told reporters that it's in his players' best interest to vote against forming a union.

But Smith said NCAA student-athletes could benefit from collective bargaining in the same way that the NFLPA has throughout its history.

Our union of professional football players stands firmly behind anyone who demands to be heard as a team. Every NFL player -- past, present, and future -- owes a debt of gratitude to our founders: Frank Gifford, Don Shula, Sam Huff and Norm Van Brocklin, who, in 1956, decided that they wanted to negotiate as a team with NFL owners over cleaner clothes, better work rules, better treatment of injuries and better health care. Our collective bargaining agreement today includes better pensions and benefits, safer practices, and injury protections because they fought for and won the ability to bargain and fight as one team.

It must start with the unselfish commitment and sacrifice of the few for the many whom they will never know or meet. Current and future college athletes -- and especially their parents -- should stand behind, support, and be proud of a young man who decided not to just "shut up and play." Kain Colter has met the challenge, and we know others will too.

MANDEL: Northwestern union ruling signals coming change; more Mailbag

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