Student-athletes as employees

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The March 29 editorial “Whistled for a foul” applauded a preliminary National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern University athletes are employees for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act. Catcalls are more appropriate.

The decision would apply only to private colleges and universities; state employers are not subject to the NLRA. Only a few private universities are included in the “billion-dollar [athletic] businesses” referred to in the editorial, and they tend not to fit the mold of the institutions The Post pilloried. High percentages of their athletes graduate with degrees that promise meaningful employment.

The point the editorial highlighted — that “most athletes . . . aren’t superstars who will make millions” — cuts against the NLRB decision. Nearly all Northwestern athletes are more focused on degrees than on a professional career, which means they are principally students, not athletes, even if they spend more college time in athletics than in academics. They probably believe, with good cause, that their athletic careers will burnish their résumés when they seek employment.

What of private schools that don’t have self- sustaining athletic programs? The athletic programs in many of these schools are on the ropes. A pay-for-play requirement probably would cut those ropes.

James A. Dueholm, Washington

Sally Jenkins [“A difference between workouts, workplace,” Sports, March 30] brought up valid questions about the proposed Northwestern University football players’ union, but she was light on solutions. It’s worth noting that one of her fixes — guaranteed, four-year scholarships for athletes — is a pillar of the College Athletes Players Association, the organization behind the unionization effort.

How are college athletes supposed to bring about changes? Waiting on the stubborn NCAA, which took three years to enact scholarship stipends to allow athletes to buy groceries, is not reasonable. Athletes have no seat at the table, and a union, while imperfect, at least gives them a voice. I applaud former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and CAPA President Ramogi Huma for taking bold action to bring change to a system that is clearly broken.

Bobby Pillote, Bethesda

Sally Jenkins asked, “If players are employees, then [their athletic scholarships are] taxable, right?” Right, and this would affect the universities as well.

Changing the status of a nonprofit university’s athletes from students to employees also would change the classification of the athletic program from a “related” business to an “unrelated business,” making any income from that business taxable. If athletes are no longer playing their sport as students, then they are no longer furthering the university’s educational purpose.

Universities could convert to a business league, like the nonprofit NFL, and abandon a declared focus on education to avoid paying taxes on the profits of their athletic programs. This may be a more accurate classification for our exploited young athletes.

Nancy Ortmeyer Kuhn, Bethesda



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