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April 26, 2014

Northwestern players vote on union question

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — In a historic vote, Northwestern football players cast secret ballots Friday on whether to form the nation’s first union for college athletes — a decision that could change the landscape of American amateur sports.

“You got to give the people what they want!” one of the players shouted at reporters, who were kept away from the players as they entered a campus building to vote. Some waved and another busted out dance moves.

Results of the unprecedented vote won’t be revealed any time soon. After the vote, the ballot boxes will be sealed for weeks or months — perhaps even years — as the university challenges the effort to unionize the football team.

The full National Labor Relations Board agreed Thursday to hear the school’s appeal of a regional director’s March ruling that the players are employees and as such can unionize. Ballots will be impounded until that process is finished, and a court fight could come after that decision.

Supporters of the effort say a union would help college athletes obtain better compensation, medical care for injuries and other benefits. The NCAA this endorsed a plan this week that would give big schools like Northwestern more autonomy to address such issues for its athletes.

None of the players participating in an early round of voting stopped to talk with reporters, but the excitement of some was evident as they waved or thrust their arms into the air in view of TV news cameras. A second round of voting was scheduled for later in the day.

Cheering them on was Fred Massey, a former high school basketball coach from Detroit who is now an advocate for student-athletes.

“These kids are afraid to rock the boat because as athletes ... that big dream of the NFL and the NBA is being dangled in front of them with all the millions of dollars,” he said. “So, you just do what you’re told. They don’t want to jeopardize that.”

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