Editor’s note: This article is part of Work, democracy and the common good, our series on workers’ rights and trade unions. It was born in part from our Democracy SOS fellowship, where we are one of 21 newsrooms across the country reinventing the way the media reports on the critical issues facing our democracy.
In a time of discontent with the two-party political system, the great resignation, debates over the future of work, and the reality that the American dream is out of reach for too many of us and the next generation, it is clear that unionization is a topic worth reporting.
If you have story ideas, scoops, or want to know more about the Work, democracy and the common good series, please contact our press room. Your comments are welcome.
College footballers face many problems. They’re risking serious injury juggling classes with intense practice and training schedules — and they’re not being paid to work most of the year to create the product that is college football.
Jason Stahl started the College Football Players Association just over a year ago with the ambitious goal of organizing college players nationwide to address these issues. “It’s a cause close to my heart – in part because I feel the realities of the harm done to young men’s lives by the sport of college football have been largely ignored,” he said. he declares. Atlanta Civic Circle.
Stahl, a former professor of organizational leadership at the University of Minnesota, wants to educate players and the public about the inner workings of college football, so “people understand what happens to individual college football players and how to hopefully- the, reform the game.”
Giving players a collective voice they can use to advocate for change — both at the conference level and in their own schools — is the way to do that, he believes, which prompted him to start his non-profit organization in July 2021.
Stahl assembled a steering committee of current and former college football players, which unveiled its platform for change in May. The first three boards advocate independent medical care, healthier practices and post-football health protections. The fledgling players’ association issued three additional demands in July: a share of media rights revenue for players, a longer offseason and CFBPA representation at the college football bargaining tables.
Stahl’s player signing efforts propelled the CFBPA unexpectedly into the media spotlight in July after a visit to Penn State University, a Big Ten Conference Power Five football school. He made the trip to discuss with the players he was lobbying to join his group the changes they wanted to see, with the aim of presenting their main demands to the Big Ten. During an eight-day visit, Stahl recruited several players as members – but a secret meeting with the whole squad was later uncovered by a coach on July 14.
Stahl’s visit arose out of discussions about joining the CFBPA with the quarterback Sean Clifford, who was leading the charge to organize his teammates. But after the reunion was discovered, Clifford decided to work for change within his university and the Big Ten instead.
Stahl then released the players the three main demands to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and sports media for: a percentage of media rights revenue for players, post-football health benefits and independent medical care. This led to an hour-long call with Warren in late July.
It was Stahl’s job at the University of Minnesota, where he ran an undergraduate freshman experience program that turned him into an activist for college players. Stahl began building relationships with the players he taught in 2014, while working on a book about real life college football players with the working title, Exploit U: The Secret Underworld of College Football. He became a lawyer for them after hearing their reports of what he called a “toxic workplace” under new football head coach PJ Fleck in 2017.
But Stahl said his defense of players caused friction with university management, which ultimately led to his resignation in 2020. Stahl did several internal reports on his concerns about a toxic coaching culture that overworked players and coaches, limited free speech and fostered mistrust. His reports alleging NCAA violations eventually reached the university’s director of athletic compliance, Jeremiah Carter, but the issue was later dropped when Stahl’s player source failed to come forward.
Stahl claims his activism caused then-associate dean of undergraduate education Michael Rodriguez in 2020 to remove him from his role as director of the freshman experience program and brought in the college dean education and human development, Jean Quam, to cancel a three-year employment contract traded in 2018. Quam did not respond to a request for comment.
“I want to be clear: I wasn’t fired,” Stahl said. “I was basically demoted to the position I had held 10 years before. It was unacceptable to me, so I quit.
Stahl spoke with Atlanta Civic Circle of what he hopes to achieve through his association of young players. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Christian Knox: You created the CFBPA a little over a year ago, put together a board of directors, a steering committee, and then release your six Platform for Change boards earlier this summer. Where are you focusing as you enter phase two?
Jason Stahl: What we’re going to do during the season – starting here in August, when fall camp takes place – is threefold. First, build the membership base, especially among current players. That’s why we’ve reduced dues to $1 a year because we really need to add some guys.
We realized that being at Penn State, once the guys find out who we are, the concept works. People don’t understand that in large college football programs, the players themselves are kept in black boxes where they have very little interaction with campus, especially now that so many courses are online post COVID.
Number two is education. There’s so much to educate about who we are, what we’re trying to do – but also the realities of the job.
Third, fundraising for these two initiatives. I think fundraising is going to get a lot easier now than it was the first year, that’s for sure. We are fundraising now because we have been able to identify the first position we need after mine – a membership director. We also need someone who can provide good education to our members.
Why is that?
First and foremost, we were a new organization trying to do something that had really never been done before. We are trying to build a new institution from scratch.
We had to prove to donors that we were capable of doing something like we just did [at Penn State]. Now, it didn’t go the way we planned, but I think it’s now been shown to the world – all potential donors being top of the list of course – that we can accomplish something with very limited. Think of what we could accomplish if we had even more.
How is the recruitment of players going?
In our view, the biggest thing hindering our success is our ability to reach current college football players, let them know what we are doing, let them know how they can get involved, and let them know the circumstances of their own industry. .
We are remote right now. Our two management teams [the board and the leadership committee] are basically spread across the country in four time zones. Hopefully that changes this year.
You created the CFBPA to organize players and give them a collective voice. Do you want to form a union, like the NFL Players Association?
We are a trade association that seeks to bring together past, present and future college football players into a new institution that attempts to build a national community of people with the common interests of reforming the game in mind.
When it comes to Power Five programs, that’s the road [a union] we will have to go there for sure. I really feel like we got a helping hand. But, we are a players association for college football players nationwide, no matter what program they play.
The vision of a union undertaking legally binding collective bargaining – of course we are ready, and we will be able to when the time comes. But this is an extraordinarily limited view of what an institution is. [like CFBPA] can accomplish.
Are you publishing demands at this point, or have you considered any class action?
Any suspension work in any form, you have to build strength first before you can do something like this. Nobody [at other college players’ associations springing up] is about having guys organized effectively to retain their work – us included. No one else is even close.
But before you escalate tensions in any way at first – whether it’s an official union, strike or work stoppage – before that, you see where people are ready to meet you and you try to increase the tension on them in different ways. ways to bring them to the table.
The Big Ten have finally decided not to invite you to their Big Ten Media Days. What kind of response is your Platform for Change getting from college football fans after all the publicity surrounding you meeting the Penn State players?
I think the fans after [players became able to profit off of their name, image and likeness]just accepted that the game is going to change, and most embrace it.
I think Penn State fans were kind of like, ‘Well, that’s cool. Our quarterback is trying to be the new leader of this movement. They were a little taken aback when [Clifford] turns around. I really wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t done that, because I think the vast majority of people are with us. I really believe it.