The increasingly contentious and complicated relationship between the N.C.A.A. and its top amateur athletes took another step toward a legal showdown on Tuesday when a group of Northwestern football players appealed to the National Labor Relations Board with the first effort by college athletes to join a labor union.
Kain Colter, Northwestern’s starting quarterback last season, was joined by Ramogi Huma, the president of the newly formed College Athletes Players Association, and Leo W. Gerard, the president of United Steelworkers, to announce that a petition had been filed on behalf of Colter and his teammates to seek union representation.
“College athletes need a labor organization that can give them a seat at the table,” Huma said, adding, “This ends a period of 60 years when the N.C.A.A. has knowingly established a pay-for-play system while using terms like ‘student-athlete’ and ‘amateurism’ to skirt labor laws.”
Though payment of players at Football Bowl Subdivision programs and Division I basketball universities has become a thorny issue given the billions of dollars generated by the sports, Colter said medical care, particularly expenses after graduation, was his biggest concern.
“The same medical issues that professional athletes face are...
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