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The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Richard Griffin released a memo in late January stating that football players at private universities and colleges should qualify as employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). As SportsLawInsider reports, the memo noted that these players should be afforded the Act’s Section 7 protections, which would give players the right to self-organize and engage in collective bargaining over issues such as player safety and financial compensation. The NLRB had previously refused to grant private college football players the status of employees when it dismissed a unionization attempt by Northwestern University’s football team, but a recent NLRB decision that held that graduate teaching assistants are employees has paved the way for this reassessment of football players’ status.

This is a monumental step forward for the athletes, with Ramogi Huma, the leader of Northwestern’s unionization efforts, calling the decision “historic” and a clear commitment by the NLRB to “protecting college athletes’ employee rights under the labor laws.” While the memo is not legally binding, it invites and allows players to bring challenges of unfair labor practices by universities to the NLRB. However, this victory may be short-lived, as Griffin’s term as general counsel ends in November and his successor could reverse this stance.

Prudence Ng is a Sports and Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2019).

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