The American experience with labor unions is often romanticized, especially for their halcyon days of the early to mid-20th century. But as Salvador Dali warned us “The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels; it is always the false ones that look the most real; the most brilliant”. The labor movement in the United Sates, starting in earnest right after the Civil War, has also been marked by violence and corruption. All premises for union formation eventually can be distilled to the need to organize workers to stand up and fight with management in order to get more of something while having to do less of something. Fights are often bloody.
So now the college athlete enters the world of the United Steel Workers (can we predict new materials forthcoming for helmets and shoulder pads?) the organization that funded this exercise. To be clear, the flaws in the current NCAA structure as it relates to college sports in general, and football in particular, are undeniable. Hypocrisy abounds with arbitrary rules about eligibility and with the unseemly influence of alumni and boosters. Hubris abounds. As an example, just a day before the NLRB ruling The Associated Press reported that Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith will receive an $18,000 bonus because Buckeyes wrestler Logan Stieber won a NCAA championship last week. That said is the formation of a labor union something that will lead to a solution? Won’t it simply lead to more confrontation and greater levels of hypocrisy as students and universities pretend they are not businesses while behaving exactly like businesses?
In insightful remarks made right after the decision, Fox News contributor and “The Five” regular Dana Perino suggested that if the players are going to be considered employees then maybe the NFL will respond by developing farm leagues similar to Major League Baseball. Given the robust health of college football its death seems irrational to predict. That said, a single spore can lead to pandemic. In the not so distant future, team pennants may be replaced with signs screaming “equal pay for equal play”. At least football is played in autumn so no conscientious objector needs worry about lacing up on May Day.