Northwestern football players cast votes on union

(USA Today) EVANSTON, Ill. — The first votes came in just after 6 a.m., as Northwestern football players trickled into McGaw Hall to vote on whether to form a union for the first time in college sports history.

The event itself was rather, well, uneventful.

Several players declined to speak with reporters about their votes, and the ballots won't even be counted for months. The National Labor Relations Board agreed Thursday to hear Northwestern's appeal to overturn the initial ruling by the regional NLRB office that classified Wildcat football players as employees. Until that appeal process is finished, the ballots will be impounded.

The actual voting itself took place in a room closed to the media, monitored by NLRB officials.

There were two opportunities for players to vote: One between 6 a.m. and 7:30, then again between 10 a.m. and noon with a team workout and breakfast in between.

It was unclear how many of the 76 eligible players cast ballots. What was obvious, however, was that this was no normal day at Northwestern.

Before casting his ballot, punter Chris Gradone got out of a car with a documentary crew from Al Jazeera America. There was also a lone protester holding a sign that read, "Become Aware, Not Controlled."

That protester, Fred Massey, is a former assistant basketball coach at Detroit Country Day School who has worked with several former and current Division I players. He drove down from Detroit, he said, in support of the union vote.

"I hope they vote yes. I know they're being pressured," Massey said. "Once players feel like they've been taken advantage of by the system, a couple players have reached out to me at other schools and they're interested to see how this goes and they'll start contacting the steelworkers union in other states."​

Ex-player Michael Odom, who walked onto the team last season but quit because the time demands were interfering with his academic work, said he believed the formation of union would be voted down because players had been "talked out of" yes votes by Northwestern officials.

"I think it's unfortunate," Odom said. "The administration has been heavily kind of trying to guilt trip players into not voting for it. Again I'm not in the locker room, I don't play anymore, so I don't want to sound like I'm more involved than I am. This is all hearsay but I trust what my teammates tell me.


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