If you hoped the debate over compensating student athletes was disappearing any time soon, you’ll probably want to avoid sports media for at least the next week.
Monday night, as the Connecticut Huskies won their first championship title under the direction of coach Kevin Ollie, criticism of the U-Conn. program was still swirling. The Huskies’ star guard, Shabazz Napier, told reporters that sometimes he goes to bed “starving” because he can’t afford food. Napier was named most outstanding player after leading his team to the national title.
After a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official said in March that college football players on full scholarship at Northwestern University are university employees, Napier offered his thoughts on the ruling to reporters in a post-game locker room scrum.
“We as students athletes get utilized for what we do so well, and we’re definitely blessed to get a scholarship to our universities,” Napier said. “But at the end of the day, that doesn’t cover everything. We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food in. Sometimes money is needed. I don’t think you should stretch it out to hundreds of thousands of dollars for playing, because a lot of times guys don’t know how to handle themselves with money.”
Now, Connecticut lawmakers are thinking about introducing legislation that would allow U-Conn. athletes to unionize. Because U-Conn. is a public school, it’s not governed by the rules of the NLRB, unlike Northwestern, which is private.
“He says he’s going to bed hungry at a time when millions of dollars are being made off of him. It’s obscene,” Connecticut Rep. Matthew Lesser (D) told CNN. “This isn’t a Connecticut problem. This is an NCAA problem, and I want to make sure we’re putting pressure on them to treat athletes well.”
But Napier said he doesn’t necessarily think of himself as an employee, the logic that was at the crux of the NLRB decision.