National Labor Relations Board’s Counsel Finds Some Limits on Players Unlawful

On October 10, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel declared that some Northwestern University football team rules were unlawful pursuant to an advice memorandum dated September 22, 2016. This ruling found that the players must be freely allowed to post on social media, discuss issues of their health and safety, and speak with the media.

While this ruling has no force of law on the other sixteen private schools, if a similar complaint is ever filed at one of those schools, this memorandum may be guiding and result in an identical outcome. As explained by John Adam, the attorney for the College Athletes Players Association in the original Northwestern case, “[t]echnically, it’s not the same as when the board rules a decision, but the general counsel can get the ball rolling by the complaints that are made – sort of like a prosecutor.”

Significantly, the letter also referred to the scholarship student-athletes as employees for the purpose of its analysis. However, as pointed out by NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy, the players were only considered employees hypothetically for the purposes of the memorandum, stating: “[m]ake no mistake – student-athletes are not employees under the law, nor in the manner in which they engage with their schools.”

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