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Recently, Northwestern University’s football players began to explore options that would allow them to unionize, and someday maybe even earn a paycheck.
“A lot of people will think this is all about money; it’s not,” former Northwestern football player Kain Colter told the Chicago Tribune earlier this year. “We’re asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard.”
But the discussions surrounding student-athletes aren’t just about unions or money. There’s another issue at play — questioning if universities are doing enough academically to prepare their athletes for life after graduation.
Former Ball State and Cleveland Browns football player Reggie Hodges thinks the benefits of being a student athlete–like a free education, along with room and board stipends–are enough compensation, and it’s up to the student to put academics over sports.
“There’s just not that many people who are going to get to play at the next level,” Hodges said. “So honing in on academics and letting sports be secondary is the key to a successful student-athlete career.”
But that’s not always the case, said current Browns running back Edwin Baker.
While the former Michigan State student-athlete says his collegiate coach guided him to make good academic choices, he says that may not be the focus of all universities.
“There is institutions that allow institutions that let their students just to take gym, music, dance, just to be eligible to play,” he said. “Yeah, they have a degree, but does their degree really mean something?”
“When you say student athlete, they’re a student, but do they learn anything,” he added.
But Youngstown State University’s Cryshanna Jackson, an associate political science professor who joined Hodges on WCPN’s daily call-in show The Sound of Ideas, says universities don’t tend to focus enough on the actual education of student athletes.
“They bring in students who normally wouldn’t be able to go to college, who are not college ready, they make them practice 50 hours a week, they watch videos during study tables, and they are not prepared and it’s not fair,” Jackson said.
And the debate surrounding collegiate sports and academics will likely continue, as Northwestern’s football players are set to vote next week on whether to unionize.
You can listen to The Sound of Ideas’ entire discussion about paying student-athletes by clicking here.