The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board released a memo Tuesday stating he believed football players at private colleges qualify as employees.
Published Wednesday by Inside Higher Education, NLRB general counsel Richard Griffin wrote to the organization’s regional directors that “scholarship football players in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision private-sector colleges and universities are employees,” according to his interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act.
While nothing in Griffin’s memo is legally binding, it is a step forward to end amateurization in college football.
“It’s definitely historic,” Ramogi Huma told IHE. “By declaring that these athletes are employees, the general counsel is saying that his office is committed to protecting college athletes’ employee rights under the labor laws, and I think that can’t be understated. It’s what the players at Northwestern set in motion, and this is a major milestone.”
However, Griffin wrote Tuesday that FBS players “clearly satisfy the broad definition of employee and the common-law test.”
“Scholarship football players should be protected [by the NLRA] when they act concertedly to speak out about aspects of their terms and conditions of employment,” he wrote. “This includes, for example, any actions to: advocate for greater protections against concussive head trauma and unsafe practice methods, reform NCAA rules so that football players can share in the profit derived from their talents, or self-organize.”
He continued: “We determine here that the application of the statutory definition of employee and the common-law test lead to the conclusion that Division I FBS scholarship football players are employees under the NLRA, and that they therefore have the right to be protected from retaliation when they engage in concerted activities for mutual aid and protection. It is our hope that by making our prosecutorial position known, we will assist private colleges and universities to comply with their obligations under the act.”
The NCAA’s general counsel Donald Remy disagreed with Griffin’s stance, of course. His entire organization foundationally exists to disagree with Griffin’s stance. “The NLRB previously decided that it would not exercise jurisdiction regarding the employment context of student-athletes and their schools,” Remy told IHE. “The general counsel’s memo does not change that decision and does not allow student-athletes to unionize. Students who participate in college athletics are students, not employees.”