Theodis Kain Colter is the perfect front man for the College Athletes Players Association.
Colter is the ideal student-athlete: playmaker as quarterback and receiver, three-time Big Ten all-academic honoree, polished speaker.
“God has blessed me with the ability to be a natural-born leader whether it’s as a quarterback, team captain or leader outside of the football field,” Colter told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “This is something I’m truly passionate about.”
Colter, who played his college ball at Northwestern, and the United Steelworkers have announced plans to form the first labor union for college athletes. Colter said at Tuesday’s news conference in Chicago that football and basketball players help generate hundreds of millions of dollars for schools, coaches and administrators, but the NCAA gives them little or no say about financial compensation or how to improve their own safety.
Colter told the AP he loved his experience at Northwestern, but he has long believed the system is broken. He comes from an athletic family. His father, Spencer Colter, was a safety on Colorado’s 1990 national championship team. His uncle, Cleveland Colter, was an All-America safety at Southern California.
Colter said he was moved to action after a conversation with his teacher in a summer class called Modern Workplace. The class was studying the history of labor unions, and the teacher asked him why college athletes didn’t unionize, considering all the money their sports generate.
Not long after that Colter reached out to Ramogi Huma. He’s a former UCLA football player who runs the National College Players Association, which he founded in 2001 to lobby for the interests of college athletes. Huma worked out the details with the Steelworkers while Colter worked to garner support from teammates.
Colter rented a classroom on the Northwestern campus for a meeting Sunday where he asked the Wildcats’ football players to sign union cards. Colter said almost all of them did. A petition to form a union has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, which must determine whether the football players are employees as defined by federal labor law. If they are, they would have the legal right to organize.
The NCAA and Big Ten maintain the athletes are not employees.
Colter has exhausted his eligibility, so it’s unlikely he’ll partake in any of the benefits if the union comes to fruition. He said he wants to help make life better for the athletes who follow him.
At a minimum, he said, college athletes deserve to receive money in addition to their scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance and have guaranteed medical coverage that extends beyond college. That medical coverage, he said, should pay for treatment of health problems that pop up as a result of injuries incurred from playing their sport.
“We’re not trying to fill our pockets,” Colter said.
The medical issue hit home with Colter this past season. He suffered a concussion in the season opener and battled an ankle injury later in the season. He hopes to be drafted into the NFL as a receiver.
“I hope that 10 or 15 years down the line I don’t have long-last effects from my playing days, from wearing my school colors,” Colter said. “I brought a lot of (publicity) for my school. You would just hope that in return they would offer you some protection.”