Northwestern Players Union – The NFL Offers Some Lessons

By now everyone in the sports world and most in the education world know about the decision yesterday by the National Labor Relations Board to allow student athletes at Northwestern to form a union (the ruling can be appealed and overturned so it’s not final).  Colleges enjoy a sweet racket with college sports and are concerned about what it might mean. The usual pro-and anti-union arguments are rearing up.  And fans worry about what might mean for college sports.

But there is a precedent that should soothe some nerves – the NFL.  The National Football League for all its problems, which are too legion to list here, has a players union that is not a barrier to on-field performance. In fact, the NFL has struck a balance that affords players protections, vested veterans additional ones they have earned, but none of those rules affect on-field performance. Coaches can play players or cut them from the team at their discretion. Patriots coach Brendan Daly and his brother TNTP’s Tim Daly discussed some of that a few years ago.

The NFL players union is a model K-12 public schools might do well to emulate.  It’s unionization and respect for seniority coupled with respect for the importance of performance.  It protects people from jagged edges – veterans receive their salary if they’re cut during the season, for instance – but not in ways that work against the underlying goals. That’s hardly the balance of things in K-12 now.

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