Northwestern coach can't have it both ways on union

  • Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald is setting a dangerous predent by taking a stance on the potential college football players' union.
Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald is setting a dangerous predent… (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune )
April 08, 2014|By Evan F. Moore | For RedEye

Pat Fitzgerald is the face of modern Northwestern football.

He's the embodiment of the recent success the program has had. After all, the school will tell you it is Chicago's Big Ten team.

Not only is Fitzgerald a former player coaching at his alma mater, he represents hope for a program with a well-documented history of futility.

That makes him a company guy.

Last week, Fitzgerald broke his silence when he made his stance known regarding the recent National Labor Relations Board ruling that allows football players to unionize. Like any coach who assembles a scouting report for an opponent, Fitzgerald laid out his game plan.

"I believe it's in their best interests to vote no," he told reporters. "With the research that I've done, I'm going to stick to the facts and I'm going to do everything in my power to educate our guys. Our university is going to do that. We'll give them all the resources they need to get the facts."

Those comments could be perceived as hypocritical.

Fitzgerald knows better than anyone what college football players go through. The protection his former quarterback Kain Colter wants is similar to the protection Fitzgerald himself could have used himself when he suffered a broken leg during the Wildcats' improbable Rose Bowl run in 1996.

Fitzgerald is setting a dangerous precedent. It is no secret that college football coaches hold tremendous sway over their teams.

College sports are evolving. The Big Ten generated more than $315 million in revenue after the 2012 season.

That's a lot of money that can't be ignored.

At this point in time, Fitzgerald sounds more like a union-busting company guy instead of a football coach.

The families of the players entrusted him with their sons' development. Why would Fitzgerald get involved if things could end up in the school's favor?

Let these young men make adult decisons. There's no problem with giving them advice. However, when giving someone advice on whether they should join a union, whose interests are they protecting? The school's or the players'?

Evan F. Moore is a RedEye special contributor.

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