Building a New Institution

The College Football Players Association at One Month

This is a free online newsletter for Jason Stahl, Executive Director and founder of the College Football Players Association (CFBPA). If you’d like to sign up, you can do so here. If you’d like to support the work we’re doing in building a CFBPA, please consider a donation over at our official organization website.

When we started the College Football Players Association (CFBPA) one month ago, we did so with four current and former college football players on our seven-member advisory board. However, we knew that even with this representation we were not yet a movement of players. Instead, we took an “if you build it they will come” attitude. Whereas last summer there was a true player movement calling for a CFBPA, that movement quickly evaporated as no one stepped up to lead and create this new institution. So, a month ago, we decided to work backwards. We built the institution first in an attempt to rekindle the fire of the player movement from last summer.

It is best to think of what we’re doing as creating a strong vessel though which our player members will eventually be able to express their will. We want to show players that we’re here to stay—that we are a group of people dedicated to building a strong, sustainable, brand-new institution that can be used to express the collective will of college football players nationwide. We are a vessel and we hope that college football players individually and as teams decide to use us to express their collective will to change the game for the better.

Over the first month of our existence, we’ve made great progress is building the CFBPA—in building a vessel that the players can use. I’m writing this newsletter today to give everyone an update regarding this progress. I’ll break our progress down into several areas:

1) Organizational Structure: I’m very proud of the advisory board we put together at our launch. First and foremost, a majority of our board was composed of current and former college football players. We have an anonymous current college football player on our board. At the CFBPA we value the privacy of any member who wishes to remain private. While this can be challenging, as we will eventually need current players to come out and speak publicly for their institution, we nevertheless understand the desire of some members to remain private. In college football, players can be easily retaliated against through loss of scholarship and/or playing time and so we want to be respectful of any member, even a member of our advisory board, who wishes to be a private member. In addition to this current player, we have three former college football players on our board. Gaelin Elmore, James Humphries and Pete Najarian bring their own significant playing experiences to our understanding of college football reform. The board also has leaders in the sport reform community including Michael Hsu and David Ridpath. Finally, James Humphries and Richard Painter have brought much needed legal expertise to the board.

Since our launch we have added two more members to the board and will be putting them on our website shortly. First, we have added an anonymous parent of a current college football player (and CFBPA member) to help us understand the parent perspective on college football reform. This person will also be helping us solicit parent members to the organization. Secondly, we have added attorney Marshall Tanick to the board. Marshall is a well-known labor attorney who has written extensively about the possibility of college football players unionizing. If our membership eventually wants to move in this direction, Marshall will ensure we are ready to make it a reality.

We are now incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Minnesota and will be filing next month for IRS classification as a 501(c)4 organization. At the time of this filing, we will establish a formal Board of Directors in addition to our advisory board. And, of course, as we raise more money, we will begin hiring staff. In the end, we will be targeting the NFLPA model for our organization. The Executive Director, Board of Directors and administrative staff will establish a permanent, long-term institution dedicated to the players and to be used by them to express their will. Once we have more members, especially public members, we will, like the NFLPA, establish an Executive Committee and Board of Player Representatives so players can use us to express their will and make the organization their own.

2) Membership Development and Fundraising: We are in the final day of our August sponsored membership drive. For every $24 donated we will give away a free year of membership to any current college football player. Please donate today if you haven’t already! This campaign has allowed us to begin building a network of grass-roots donors who are in support of what we are doing. The campaign has given us many unclaimed memberships which we will be giving away to players from now until the end of the year. If you are a current college football player interested in claiming one of these memberships, don’t hesitate to reach out to claim one.

We have had many good conversations with current college football players about membership and a handful have claimed these sponsored memberships. However, thus far, all members are private as fear of retaliation over becoming a public member is strong. Moreover, given that we launched during fall camp for players, reaching players with our message has been a challenge. As such, as we build our finances, the first position we will be hiring is a Director of Membership Development. Given the intense time demands on college football players, and the transient nature of the workforce, we need to find more innovative ways to reach them and to cultivate player leaders within the CFBPA.

3) Media Coverage: We’ve very happy with the media coverage our launch has received. Be sure to check out our media page to see it all.

4) Volunteers: When we began our effort, we did not have a volunteer portal on our website. However, we’ve added one to meet the demand given that so many individuals reached out after our launch asking how they could help. This was really gratifying and these volunteers have been instrumental in getting our new organization off the ground. If you’re interested in volunteering, head on over to our volunteer portal, fill out the form and someone will get back to you.

5) Creating Institutional Partnerships: In our first month, we’ve made enormous progress establishing relationships with other institutions who are interested in our work and in partnering with us. We’ve met and spoken with state legislative offices; national legislative offices; unions; and health, safety and welfare organizations.

While all of these emerging partnerships are eager to see how we develop and in what direction players take us in, I think all of them—along with our current members—recognize that one of the first areas we need to tackle is in the area of health, safety and welfare. Everyone now recognizes that the NCAA has completely abdicated its responsibilities in these areas in all college sports but especially in college football. Between 2000 and 2016, 33 college football players died playing the game. 32 of these deaths occurred in practice. Since then, I have not been able to find accurate statistics but we know of Jordan McNair’s death in 2019. These deaths occurred because of a culture of insane overwork and violence in many college football practice cultures across the United States.

These same practice cultures are producing an unconscionable level of concussions as well. Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of meeting with Chris Nowinski of the Concussion Legacy Foundation to talk about the insane amount of concussions occurring in college football practices. As we now know, many of these are leading to life-long problems for players including CTE. Chris talked about how the NFL and NFLPA, by drastically limiting contact in practice, and by having very few practices with full pads, have shown that practice concussions and injuries can be drastically curtailed. Yet in college football, we still allow for a free-for-all atmosphere which has ended the careers of many individuals and left them to deal with sometimes life-long physical and mental health problems.

We can and must to better than this. We are committed as an institution to doing better. We ask members of the general public to help us in this fight by donating or volunteering. We ask current players, former players, high school players and parents of football players to help us by becoming a member and by getting involved and making the CFBPA your own.