NFL union backs Northwestern athletes' desire to organize

The NFL Players Association expressed support Thursday for Northwestern University student athletes who are the first college football players to try to form a union. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke at the Super Bowl media center in Manhattan. Videojournalist: Chuck Fadely (Jan. 30, 2014)

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NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith expressed support for Northwestern football players attempting to form a union, applauding the players for their courage to challenge NCAA rules governing college sports.

"You can rarely understand what courage it would take to step out of that role as an athlete who generally responds to whatever a coach says," Smith said Thursday at the NFLPA's annual Super Bowl news conference.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is attempting to unionize players for the first time, essentially looking to be considered employees of their respective schools. Colter called the NCAA a "dictatorship" at a news conference on Tuesday. Colter was not at Thursday's news conference, but College Athletes Players Association founder and president Ramogi Huma was on hand and was recognized by Smith.

"Kain Colter, quarterback for the Northwestern football team, wanted to be here today, but he is having ankle surgery," Smith said. "Athletes who play for state universities will never have to worry about injuries they suffer playing for a state university. To all of those brave athletes at Northwestern: Each of you has decided to stand up for players you may never meet, players you may never know."

Smith added, "You are not alone. We're going to be with you 100 percent."

Smith addressed several other topics, including the ongoing investigation into the alleged hazing of Dolphins tackles Jonathan Martin by teammate Richie Incognito. Smith said the union has done its own investigation into the matter, and praised the NFL for having an independent review conducted by New York attorney Ted Wells. Smith said he did not want to comment specifically on the allegations, but wanted to make sure the NFL workplace provides a proper environment for all players.

Smith said the union and the NFL have agreed on all but two points for HGH testing to begin. He wants to see neutral arbitration. "The two exceptions the league wants: one in which a player has been adjudicated as violating the drug policy and two, based on evidence the player has been in violation of the drug policy," Smith said. "The best example of that is Alex Rodriguez's situation. Our players are not in agreement to those carve-outs."

Smith said the union has had some cursory discussions about the use of marijuana as it relates to its drug policy. Marijuana remains on the list of banned substances, although NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently expressed a willingness to allow players to use medical marijuana if scientific studies indicate it can help in the recovery process for certain injuries, including concussions.

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