Could a College Football Union Be the Biggest Force for Progress in the South?

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tags: sports, Southern history, labor, college football

Creating real, lasting progressive change in the South is hard. In the 1860s, it took an invasion by the U.S. military. In the 1960s, the civil rights movement did it by bringing the moral weight of the entire world’s attention to bear. But permanent institutions in the South that have the power to enact lasting reforms without being crushed by latent cultural hostility are exceedingly rare. 

Well, here’s an idea for a new progressive institution powerful enough to bend the South to its will: A union of college football players. 

And now such a thing can become a reality! Because Jennifer Abruzzo, the Biden administration’s top National Labor Relations Board lawyer, issued a memo Wednesday asserting her position that certain college athletes are, in fact, employees, and therefore entitled to the protections of the National Labor Relations Act. That means that the legal path to unionizing college football players is now wide open. 

This is a very good thing for NCAA athletes in big time college sports, who have, for generations, been exploited by the NCAA, earning millions of dollars for their schools without being entitled to any of the proceeds of their work. It is also a good thing for the U.S. labor movement, which has just been handed an incredibly powerful tool for improving the politics of red states. Now it needs to use this tool wisely.

It may sound trite to say that college football players united in a strong union can be a potent political force. But it’s not. Let me say it even more plainly: In a number of states, a well organized union of college football players could be a stronger political force than the state Democratic Party. The Civil War ended 156 years ago, but Mississippi did not remove the Confederate flag from its state flag until 2020, when it was threatened with losing access to college football championship games. That is how powerful college football is. Do not underestimate it. 

There are huge numbers of conservative Southerners who would fight against all important progressive reforms — unless doing so threatened their access to college football. Then, they would at least be willing to negotiate. A union of Southeastern Conference football players, from schools like Ole Miss, Alabama and the University of Georgia, could force the powers that be in the South to come to the table and negotiate on broader social and economic issues in a way that almost no other group could. It could be the crowbar that breaks open doors that have been locked for more than a century. 

Read entire article at In These Times

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