Lester Munson Day

Two good pieces today from long-time ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson.

1) In Crain’s, Munson writes glowingly about the Northwestern football players’ unionization drive. Munson teaches a sports journalism course at NU’s renowned Medill School of Journalism. The article begins with this tribute:

The attempt by Northwestern University’s football players to form a union is a tribute to the way Northwestern treats and educates it athletes.

In contrast to, say, Clemson or Auburn or Florida State universities, Northwestern provides teams for its students; it does not recruit dubious students for its teams.

Munson also notes that the academic performance of the players is highly unusual among FBS teams:

“The athletes at Northwestern stay eligible by taking real courses, going to class, earning their grades and graduating. The school’s graduation rate for athletes is the highest of all schools participating in big-time sports. Its rate of graduation for African-American athletes (83 percent) is higher than the average undergraduate graduation rate for all students in all schools (73 percent), according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania.”

I think some skepticism is generally warranted in discussing the academic performance of big time college sports programs, because there are myriad ways to embellish those data, even when we’re talking about the Stanfords (or Northwesterns) of the world.

But taking those claims at (or near) face value, this passage got me to wondering something.

The NCAA’s claim is, of course, that the recruited participants are students first. We know this is nonsense in the typical case. But I wonder whether NU’s unusually good academic performance (combined with the fact that it is not a powerhouse on the field) might actually work against the players’ arguments and tend to support the NCAA’s claim that the participants really are “student-athletes” in the sense the NCAA insists is the case.

I’ve emailed Munson to ask what he thinks about this. Perhaps it’s not ultimately germane. Anyway, I think this story is as significant as any development in major American sports today and will continue to bear watching.

2) Munson also has an article up at ESPN.com about the series of so-called “gay propaganda” and related discriminatory laws passed in Russia in recent years. It’s a thorough and thoroughly depressing catalogue of the deteriorating climate there for any public forms of expression of sexual preference not permitted by the state.

Living in North Carolina, a state which, two years ago, passed the most restrictive anti marriage equality amendment in the country, I am mindful that the landscape in the United States is far from pristine on these issues.  But what’s happened in Russia over the past two years is sickening and, as many commentators have discussed, has cast a pall over the upcoming Olympics there.


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