M. Spencer Green, ASSOCIATED PRESS
College Athletes Players Association designated president Ramogi Huma, right, and Northwestern University Wildcats' outgoing senior quarterback Kain Colter make their way to the beginning of three days of hearings before the National Labor Relations Board Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Chicago. The NLRB is scheduled to begin witness testimony on whether to approve a bid by Northwestern University football players who are trying to unionize. Colter is among the key witnesses in the case. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
BRADENTON, Fla. — Kain Colter is not completely sure what the landscape will one day look like if college athletes are allowed to unionize. He's just more convinced than ever that it's become necessary.
The former Northwestern quarterback, now essentially the face of the movement that could completely reshape college sports, said Thursday that a federal agency's decision to allow the Wildcats to form a union was an expected victory but also represents just the first step in what he knows will be a lengthy process.
"There's so many different components," Colter said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But what this does ... it ensures that players have a voice and whatever route this goes and whatever structure comes from college sports, we have input. We're out there sacrificing so much. We're a big part of what college sports is today and the revenue that's generated off of it. We deserve to have a say in that. We deserve a seat at the table."
A two-page online letter that he wrote might have made it all happen.
Colter, 21, wasn't the first to question why athletes feel like their rights in college are limited, but it was an online rant that he sent to the National College Players Association that started the roll of this now-enormous snowball. From that note, an idea was born, and the notion got legitimized Wednesday when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board said Northwestern's players should be allowed to unionize.
The university will appeal. Colter isn't worried.
"You saw how strong of a ruling it was and that we won every single claim," Colter said. "It's going to be something that's really hard to overturn."
At the root of Colter's argument for change is that he believes college athletes lack basic protections, such as the guarantee of medical coverage and the promise of a four-year scholarship at most institutions. It's common for scholarships to be renewed annually, and athletes have long felt that they could be vulnerable in situations like a change in coaches or philosophy.
He stresses, though, that he enjoyed his time at Northwestern. He raves about Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald, calling him the best in college football. His experience was not a bad one, but Colter still can't understand why his attempts to talk to the NCAA about possible changes were repeatedly turned down.
"You can have the best employer in the world and you still deserve basic protections and basic rights," Colter said. "That's what this is all about. ... It wasn't a complaint. It wasn't us filing this out of abuse or mistreatment or anything like that. This is what it is."
For that, he actually thanks Northwestern.
"With any big change there's going to be people who are unsure and it's too much, we're not going to be able to do this, we're not going to be able to do that," Colter said. "But at Northwestern, especially at Northwestern, I've been taught to think outside the box, be a great thinker, free thinker, be a leader, make change. That's just what we're doing. That's what Northwestern prepared us to do, to tackle this challenge."
It would be very simple for the 6-foot, 190-pound Colter to just worry about himself right now.
He accounted for 5,023 yards and 50 touchdowns 18 passing, 28 rushing and four receiving in his four years at Northwestern, and plans to try to make the NFL as a receiver. He's not expected to be drafted, and if he gets picked it almost certainly won't be until the latest rounds. He's preparing for a pro shot at IMG Academy on the southwest coast of Florida, where he said his training regimen Thursday was "business as usual."
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Which it was, except for a few rounds of interviews and having a car service get him to all the stops on his media tour of sorts. In between it all, he was working out, and he said football is his top priority even with all this legal talk swirling around him.
He insists, his group has a plan, and knows exactly how to proceed.
"My father played, my uncle played, I've been around all their teammates and their friends," Colter said. "I've seen the pitfalls in the system and I went through it. For me to represent those guys and almost make things right and hopefully change things for the future generations and leave the game better than I found it, I'm honored to do that."