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Look for the Union Label?
Alexander Wolff
August 13, 2001
Ramogi Huma's Collegiate Athletes Association is organizing Division I players
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August 13, 2001

Look For The Union Label?

Ramogi Huma's Collegiate Athletes Association is organizing Division I players

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To: Cedric Dempsey, Executive Director
From: Stuart Lickspittle, Director of Field Intelligence
Re: Collegiate Athletes Coalition

With the kids coming back to campus, thought I'd pass along an update on this outfit (a.k.a. the CAC), which is trying to organize student-athletes around the country into a kind of Division 1 players' association. As you know, the United Steel-workers are bankrolling and advising the group. One of the CAC's founders, a former UCLA linebacker named Ramogi Huma, is on the phone to Pittsburgh two or three times a day. The CAC folks say it's not a union, only "a student advocacy group," but it could have a local on every campus by Christmas.

For now, anyway, the organizers don't want anything radical. All they're asking for is health insurance during off-season "voluntary" workouts (with the recent deaths at Florida State and Florida during such workouts, this issue takes on particular urgency), more generous life insurance coverage, the elimination of all employment restrictions during the academic year, and a modest bump in scholarship stipends to reflect the actual cost of attending college. On that last count it doesn't help us that in 1995 we suspended one of Huma's teammates, linebacker Donnie Edwards, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, after $150 in unsolicited groceries showed up on Edwards's doorstep, allegedly sent by an agent who had heard him complain on a talk show about not being able to make ends meet in Westwood.

We can't demonize Huma as a revolutionary, even if his shaved head, bulldog tattoo and earring make him look the part. The guy should be doing one of our treacly promos during March Madness: He was Pac-10 All-Academic before a hip injury ended his career; he just got his master's in public health; he wants to open a group home for troubled kids. When he sits in his apartment (which doubles as his office) in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and points out how we waste our TV rights money, he sounds like a friggin' fiscal conservative. Huma never fails to say that the CAC's proposals would boost graduation rates and "enhance student-athlete welfare." (Honestly, Ced, where do people learn to talk like that?) "I think our goals are modest, feasible and attainable," he says. "They'd go a long way to help but wouldn't strain the system."

No coach is going to speak out against "enhanced student-athlete welfare," and athletic directors and presidents may get behind Huma too—as UCLA chancellor Albert Carnesale, athletic director Pete Dalis and football coach Bob Toledo all have. "It's important that we get direct, continuous access to the NCAA management council and board," Huma says. "When the student-athlete has to worry about where his next meal is coining from, at a time that $3 billion is flowing into the system between football and basketball, something needs to be addressed." Not only that, but Huma has got our Division 1 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee smoked out as the sham that it is—a tiny oligarchy selected by the schools and the management council that can't even introduce legislation, much less vote on it.

I don't think the CAC will go nuclear on us. "We're not interested in striking," Huma says. "Not playing is something student-athletes don't want." Yet he won't say what they'll do if we don't meet with them in good faith and take up their concerns. "We'll definitely have tactics that, if necessary, would be effective enough to bring about changes," Huma says. "We're being tight-lipped in case we have to use them."

Sounds as if he's read Sun Tzu's The Art of War. "If I were Cedric Dempsey," Huma says, "I'd say to myself, 'They're backed by the United Steelworkers, who have years of organizing experience. It's inevitable that there will be a national players' association in the near future. In every challenge lies an opportunity.' If the NCAA makes the decision to work with us, there can be a great degree of cooperation."

I know these guys make you nervous, Ced. Back in March you said, "They need to consider [unionization] carefully because the repercussions may go well beyond what they anticipate." But if we call in the Pinkertons when the proles are asking for so little, I can't say for sure where this will all lead. What say you book the next flight for the Coast and hear the guy out?