Pro-union sentiment in Georgia

semerson@macon.comMarch 27, 2014 

THE TELEGRAPH

ATHENS - The debate over whether college football players should form a union has hit the Georgia locker room. Before Thursday's practice, tailback Keith Marshall pulled up a study on his phone and showed it to his teammates.

All-SEC linebacker Ramik Wilson cited it after Thursday's practice to illustrate why he was "all for" a union.

"The average American works 40 hours a week. With us, with practice, tutoring and school, they said we're doing about 39.2 hours a week," Wilson said. "And we're out here risking our bodies out here, we're going hard and practicing in the hot sun every day. I think we should get some type of reward for it, and get paid for it."

Wilson didn't stop there.

"We need something," he said. "Because any play we can tear our ACL out there, or break our necks. So we're putting our lives on the line. And it's for their entertainment for Saturdays. We put in hard work every day, every single day. I think we really should get paid for it."

Northwestern football players were granted this week the right to form a union, though the school is appealing. The ruling only applies to private schools, but has led to talk of athletes at public schools fighting for the same right.

At the heart of the Northwestern player's argument is that they are employees, and therefore should be able to form a union.

Wilson estimated that he's in the Butts-Mehre building every day from about 2-8 p.m. He wakes up for tutoring at 7 a.m., then he has class. Given what he feels he's giving the university, Wilson said it would be nice to be able to buy some nice shoes and clothes, as well as some extra groceries.

"We're on a schedule every day. We're always on their time," Wilson said. "We don't have any free time. So I feel we should get some reward for it."

Of course there's more than money that's driving the union debate.

Georgia senior receiver Chris Conley is a student representative to the NCAA, so he's well-educated on the issue. Given his position, Conley has tried to provide more of an informational role to his teammates, explaining the situation and possible ramifications.

"There's a lot of misunderstanding from people," Conley said. "It's not just a money issue. And I think that's what the people on the outside think: 'Aw athletes are just trying to get paid, they need to calm down with this. It's an issue that applies to so many other things with student athletes: Time constraints, health, concussions, a bunch of stuff."

Player injuries are another matter that a union could help.

"I know they do a great job of it here (at Georgia), but there's no mandate for it across the board with institutions, and how they deal with injuries, when players leave, and ailments that they have," Conley said. "That's a big issue that's on the table. Quite frankly student-athletes want to know that they're going to be taken care of after they've committed so much to a university. They think a university or the NCAA should look after their interests."

Conley emphasized that he doesn't know if a union is the right mechanism to fight for student-athletes' rights. But he called it a "step forward."

Another slight that's been mentioned is that players must sit out a season if they transfer, while coaches can move around at any time.

"I really don't like that aspect of it at all," Jenkins said. "I remember one of my friends told me that on signing day, that coach called and told him none of the coaches are leaving. He committed there and sent in his letter-of-intent. The next day the coach left. They don't face any violation. If one of the players does that, they sign a letter-of-intent and want to change, they can't do that, they have to sit out a year."

Junior linebacker Jordan Jenkins said he was with the Northwestern players and hoped it "paved the way" for the future.

Jenkins alluded to the arrest last week of four Georgia players for double-cashing their scholarship checks (each $71.50).

"The situation that happened here, stuff like that wouldn't happen," Jenkins said. "I know it wasn't the smartest thing to do. But I mean, I've had the same pair of jeans I had my senior year of high school. I've got maybe two pairs. I'm not saying outrageously give us money. But I'm saying we need some money to buy (stuff)."

Players do receive scholarship checks, but Jenkins said it goes away quickly. And the time constraints of being a student-athlete prevent getting jobs on the side to supplement their income. Jenkins said higher-income student-athletes get money from their parents, and lower-income athletes get Pell Grants. But middle-class players such as Jenkins are often caught in between.

Senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera is also among those favoring a stipend. But he wouldn't be in favor of different pay scales for athletes, and also doesn't think they would demand them.

"I don't think people are that greedy," Herrera said. "Just give people a few extra bucks to do what they like."

Of course players like Wilson are senior, so any change woulds happen too late to help them. But it's more about the principle.

"Everybody's the same. Everybody's got about $20 in their bank account," Wilson said. "I mean shoot, we want some steak sometime. We want to go out and enjoy something sometime out of the week."

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