Richt, players react to 'All Players United' protest

semerson@macon.comSeptember 24, 2013 

Kolton Houston wearing a wristband with an acronym that stands for "All Players United."

ESPN

ATHENS - Arthur Lynch thought it was an inside joke. Georgia's offensive linemen have a lot of inside jokes, so when they showed Lynch wristbands with "APU" written on them, Lynch didn't think much of it.

Then Lynch, a senior tight end, found out it was actually a serious statement of protest against the NCAA. While sympathetic with the sentiment, Lynch still didn't think much of it.

"It takes a lot more than writing it on your wristband," Lynch said Tuesday. "If you want action you're gonna have to collectively get as a group. If you want something done, legitimize yourself, present yourself as a common cause and really try to bring some legitimacy to the issue. Don't, in my opinion, just write it on your wristband, that just doesn't get much done."

Lynch put it more bluntly a bit later: "If you want change that way, it's not gonna come by disorganized hashtags on your wrist. That's just now how it's done."

Georgia is not making its offensive linemen available for interviews this week, for apparently unrelated reasons, so they can't explain for themselves why they took part in the protest. It was organized by a former college football player and lawyer, and on Saturday six players at Georgia Tech and another at Northwestern also wrote APU (standing for All Players United) on their wristbands.

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson was critical of his players - including quarterback Vlad Lee - for not bringing the issue to the entire team and putting it up for a vote. "I think the first thing is there's probably a process that we didn't go through," Johnson said, according to the Associated Press. "In my mind what you do if the players all feel strongly about an issue, then they need to talk about it as a team and let the coaches know and it needs to be a team thing. Six guys don't represent the team, or whatever, when 80 of them don't even know what's going on and the coaches don't know what's going on. If that's the case and they want to support something, then certainly they have that right. I think you would tend to listen to what they have to say and give them the opportunity to support themselves."

But Georgia head coach Mark Richt didn't appear overly concerned on Tuesday, three days after the protest, saying he was "still trying to figure out the whole deal."

"I was probably like a lot of people, seeing it on the (ESPN) ticker after the game," Richt said. "I just have to educate myself a little better with what it's all about."

Richt did indicate he had sympathy for the overall sentiment of APU.

"We have the freedom of speech in our country, but the question is what's the most appropriate way of doing it, so that's the only thing," Richt said. "Based on what I read about, what their concerns were seemed like pretty legitimate concerns. Whatever they are trying to accomplish is being done in a respectful way, so that's all I really know."

The APU protest by the Georgia players was evidently not very organized. Lynch, Richt and quarterback Aaron Murray all said they weren't aware it was happening beforehand. In fact Murray took his linemen to dinner on Sunday, and it didn't come up.

Georgia junior receiver Chris Conley is in a unique position: He's on the NCAA student-athlete advisory committee, and used that as an excuse to avoid specifically discussing A.P.U. Conley said he didn't personally know about the wristband protest before it happened, and said he was "still in information-gathering mode," like media members.

But in general, does Conley think a protest like this could have an impact?

"I'm not really sure right now," Conley said. "The way the system is set up it could have an impact, and also it might not, and so we'll have to see how some of these things play out over time. But we will definitely be watching, and it will be something that will be talked about very highly among athletes."

Kolton Houston, the junior offensive linemen, had a long-running fight with the NCAA over his eligibility, which was finally resolved when he passed a drug test in July. Houston was one of the five Georgia linemen who wore the wristband.

Lynch doesn't know whether the Houston case was the impetus for the wristband protest, but he did agree with that part of the sentiment.

"That's just the NCAA clearly fumbling," Lynch said. "Evidence was brought to them, I think they kind of were trying to hold too much pride in their institution, when in reality an amateur athlete was suffering. He wasn't breaking any rules, he wasn't funneling money from agents or whatever it may be. He was just on the short end of a stick of something that happened five years ago."

Lynch's main concern with the NCAA, however, was a different issue. He doesn't think college athletes are educated enough on their rights - and lack of them - prior to and after signing their letter-of-intent.

"They bring so many people in here to educate us about the NFL, and there's some guys who will never see the NFL. If you're a college athlete, whether it be soccer, track or basketball, the NCAA needs to fund and require representatives to go to schools, public or private in the U.S., and really educate them as to what you're actually doing when you sign your letter-of-intent," Lynch said.

"I'm signing away the same rights I basically have when I sign with an agent at the end of the season. Obviously there's differences, the compensation, this and that. But I'm signing away our name and our rights is something parents and the prospective athlete needs to understand a little bit more about. Because I was just happy to get a full ride, I wasn't really looking too much into the details about it. I just knew that when I signed that name I got to go play football and go to school for free. And I was like: Yeah, that's tight, sign me up."

Lynch also brought up the Johnny Manziel issue, on the one hand praising Manziel's family for not speaking to the NCAA without a lawyer, but on the other pointing out that not every athlete can afford that.

"Kudos to them, because it worked. But you've gotta take into consideration how many student-athletes there are, whether it be football, basketball, track, whatever it is. And for every single one of those students to get a lawyer and kind of lawyer up, per se, to fight the NCAA, is a pretty daunting task, considering the demographics and the diversity of student-athletes in the NCAA. So I don't know if there's a way to change the system."

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