I Want to Lead the First College Football Players Association

Announcing My Candidacy for the Job

This newsletter will take you about 10-15 minutes to read. If you prefer to listen to an audio version, click this link to head on over to my YouTube channel.

When I began writing this newsletter back in July 2020, I wasn’t quite sure what the project was going to be. I knew I had stories like Grant Norton’s to tell—stories of college football players caught up in an exploitative system. I knew that I wanted to compile the stories that I had into a book—one which will tell the secrets of the college football system that I learned as a professor at the University of Minnesota over the past ten years. Beyond these goals, I only knew that I wanted to be open to new directions given that the college football season of 2020 was likely going to be in conversation with the work I wanted to do at this newsletter.

What I couldn’t possibly have imagined is that at roughly the same time I started this newsletter, college football players across the nation began to rise up and demand change to the way college football is run. After being told that they would return to play in the midst of a pandemic, players began to organize for their own health, safety and welfare in a new way. This organizing—which explicitly began advocating for a College Football Players Association (CFBPA) to represent player interests—gave another clear goal to my work at this newsletter. From that moment on, I wanted my work here to keep the organizing of a CFBPA in the public’s consciousness and not just have it go down the memory hole.

So, I first wrote about that movement here—focusing on the possibilities and pitfalls of the emerging movement in July and August. Others noted that the initial decision by the Big Ten and PAC-12 to cancel their seasons were likely designed to take the momentum away from the movement towards a CFBPA. Sure enough, after the school year began, and the talk of a CFBPA had died down, the Big Ten and PAC-12 restarted their seasons. I talked about those dynamics here at my newsletter. Finally, and most recently, I discussed here how players need to use the coming offseason to re-ignite and organize the drive for a CFBPA and how that drive needs to be part of a larger college sports reform movement.

However, as I wrote all of these CFBPA newsletters, and as I saw promoting a CFBPA as a key part of the work of this newsletter, one question always kept gnawing at me: who was going to lead a new institution like the CFBPA and who was going to do the work of organizing it? Given that no one over the past six months, to the best of my knowledge, has stepped forward I want today to make the case for myself as I believe that my experience makes me uniquely suited to the job. So, today, I want to begin the process of asking players for their support. In today’s newsletter, I’ll start by reminding everyone why players were calling for a CFBPA in the summer and why one is needed now more than ever. Then, I’ll tell my story with a focus on why I think my experience and qualifications are uniquely suited to starting and leading a CFBPA. Finally, I’ll end by talking about how players, coaches and others can show their support for my efforts.

I. Why a College Football Players Association?

Back in the summer, there was a point that I thought college football wouldn’t be played. In July and early August, word started leaking out that many teams, including high-profile ones like Clemson, were experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks in summer practices. Lesser schools and conferences began to cancel all fall sports. Then the Big Ten and PAC-12 said that they were going to cancel their seasons and I really did begin to think that the dominos would start to fall and other conferences would cancel. Could colleges and universities really shutter their campuses during the pandemic out of concern for safety but still carry on with football games? Could these same institutions, whose leaders constantly signal about their commitment to racial justice, really push so many Black undergraduate students to work for free during a global pandemic? In the end, I thought the answers to these questions would have to be “no.”

But, of course, we all know the answer to both questions was yes. And without a CFBPA in place, players were, as always, left to fend for themselves as they figured out how to move forward (or not) with their playing careers during a global pandemic which had already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Had a CFBPA been in place, player representatives might have been able to ensure health and safety protocols were being followed. Representatives could have ensured that players knew their right to opt-out and could have ensured against retaliation by coaches for choosing to opt out. Instead, none of this occurred and we went right back to the status quo where the power is monumentally tilted towards coaches and athletics administrators. This led one player to lament, “We’re just out here getting gaslit en masse by our university.”

The results were predictable, but predictably underreported, given that most sports reporters, especially local reporters, tend to give fawning coverage to coaches and universities meaning that they generally fail the athletes themselves. Despite this, some national reporters worked very hard to include athlete voices. None did a better job of this than the reporting trio Nathan Kalman-Lamb, Johanna Mellis and Derek Silva. Two of their reports at season’s end, one for The Daily Beast and one for The Guardian let the players speak for themselves regarding what they had to endure. I urge you to read both, along with this report by Christopher Kamrani for The Athletic to get a true sense of the players’ perspectives.

What stands out from these reports? First and foremost, the isolation. Players were reduced to a robotic existence where they were confined to their rooms on empty campuses when not doing football-related activities. Unlike their coaches and athletics administrators, they weren’t allowed to visit their friends and families. Finally, they had to endure the physical awfulness of constant testing along with the anxiety of a test coming back positive. All of these factors led to severe mental health degradation among players.

In the end, for one player in The Daily Beast report, this was further confirmation that “the NCAA can do whatever it wants.” In the same report, a Black SEC player lamented that “we are putting ourselves through sh*t so white people can be entertained. It’s all f*cking corrupt.” Another player in The Guardian report argued that all the players he knew “either aren’t happy with their current program, or don’t trust their current coach and/or administration after going through this past year under their leadership.” Clearly, if there was ever a time to seize the moment and organize a CFBPA it is this off season.

II. Why Should Players Trust Me to Lead a CFBPA?

Of course, this power imbalance was always there, just less visible than this past year. All the pandemic did was expose to the wider public what those of us on the inside already knew: college football can be ruthlessly exploitative for the students who play the sport.

I learned this firsthand as a faculty member at the University of Minnesota over the past ten years. After receiving my PhD from Minnesota in U.S. History in 2008, I shifted and became a contingent faculty member in the College of Education and Human Development from 2010 to 2020. What this means is that I did not have tenure nor did I have the possibility of getting tenure. In this contingent faculty role, I taught hundreds of undergraduate students a year and, as I explain in this article, this was where I was able to meet and educate many, many student-athletes including nearly 100 football players. It is where I became interested in their situations on campus and where I became interested in them as individuals off the field.

Around 2015, this led to my decision to write a book on the situation of football student-athletes on campus. I wanted to illuminate so much of what I thought was wrong with the system while working on the inside of a university to try and reform it. However, my project took a turn in 2017 as Minnesota hired a new football coach. Players who I had been working with on my project started telling me disturbing things about the environment under the new coach.

I took these player reports seriously and tried, for three years, to report what I knew about this environment to administrative authorities at Minnesota. My concerns largely fell on deaf ears and I believe that I was retaliated against in the workplace for my reporting. This led to my decision to quit my job and start this newsletter in order to try and continue my reform project. For those who are interested, I provide more detail for these events this at this link.

At this newsletter, I have exposed all that I knew about the exploitative nature of college football before the pandemic. I highlighted stories like Grant Norton’s—players discarded by the system when their bodies were no longer useful. I highlighted how easily it was for a toxic workplace to form within college football. In such workplaces coaches could get away with almost anything short of a player’s death including many acts which, if done by a professor on the same campus, would get them fired. Additionally, I have tried to highlight, through Grant’s story, and through other venues, the open scandal of “medical retirements” from college football. These are players who are permanently disabled from the game and who, in many cases, will suffer life-long medical consequences from their injuries but who are completely forgotten about by their teams and institutions. Finally, I have worked recently to try and highlight the peril of the offseason for college football players. In short, over the past six years, I have shown my commitment to this fight even as I have suffered enormous professional consequences for doing so.

In addition to this commitment, I hope players also consider me as the right man to lead a CFBPA because of my experience in building, and understanding how to build, new political institutions. As I said earlier, I received my PhD from Minnesota in 2008. My specific areas of focus were U.S. political, institutional and labor history. In particular, as someone who was deeply interested in politics and political organizing, I became interested in how Americans started political institutions from nothing and made them into powerful political forces. My first book, published in 2016, focused on how conservatives in the United States created new think tanks after World War II and how those institutions came to wield enormous political power.

This research would be enormously useful to players should they entrust me with forming and leading a CFBPA. I say this because a CFBPA would have to be entirely new given that no such organization currently exists. Moreover, a traditional labor union model for a CFBPA—where a union collectively bargains for the wages and work rules of players—would be very hard to enact for college football players after the failed attempt by Northwestern University football players to unionize in 2014 and 2015. This Sports Illustrated article does a great job of narrating the history of that attempt but the takeaway from the campaign was that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ultimately declined to assert jurisdiction over the election.

What this means, as sports law professor Marc Edelman explains in Part III of this article, is that the NLRB ruling in this case makes it particularly challenging to unionize players in the future. Additionally, in Part IV of his article, he shows how, even if traditional labor unionization was successful/allowed, such efforts could disrupt pending or future lawsuits against the NCAA.

What all of this means is that a CFBPA would likely have to depart from the traditional labor union model and instead take the form of a fraternity model with individual team chapters. I’ll talk more about this in my next newsletter, but I have already gestured towards this model in a previous newsletter. In short, I think this model would work best as it avoids the pitfalls of official unionization; such a model would likely already be familiar to players from fraternities on campus; such a model would encourage active player participation in the organization both locally and nationally; and such a model could naturally expand to any NCAA-member school with a football program. Finally, such a fraternal organization could be solely for football—easily the most dangerous college sport where players are most in need of player representatives to enforce universal health, safety and welfare standards. This separation of football into its own CFBPA fraternal organization could then be used as a model for other college sports.

Finally, I think it is important to note that, like many Americans, I am a fan of college football. I cheer for the players I’ve had as students whether they are in college or the NFL. Additionally, even this year during the pandemic, I took a lot of joy watching my undergraduate alma mater Indiana University succeed nationally for the first time in a long time.

Nevertheless, like a growing number of Americans, I also want the sport to be far more humane than it is and see a CFBPA as an important step in making this a reality. A CFBPA, as its highest goal, should encourage all Americans—players and fans alike—to understand college football in a fundamentally new way. Right now, I think so many players and fans are trapped inside a way of understanding the game which gives coaches and administrators even more power than they already have. This view holds that players and coaches are part of a “family” or a “culture” where the head coach is a “father figure.” I’ve written about this perverse view before, but, in short, the main problem with it is that it encourages players to give their whole selves over to a program even when the head coach/father becomes abusive and a culture becomes a cult.

Instead, a CFBPA will encourage players to think of themselves as individual human beings with dignity and rights which they are allowed to assert. A CFBPA will encourage players to view their participation in college football as work in a workplace and to think of their coach as a boss. They can still enjoy their work and think highly of their boss (or not) but they should never consider that coach a father unless he actually is their father. In short, college football would be better off if we stopped holding head coaches as idols and saw them as mere men who should be held accountable for their actions. It would be better off if players considered football one important part of their lives as opposed to the only important part.

III. How You Can Support My Efforts

To current and former college football players, I humbly ask for your support in leading this new organization. Over the next six months, I hope to garner as many public endorsements from current and former players as possible. I believe that anyone who wishes to run a new organization like this must have the public backing of as many players as possible and so I hope to make this happen. I will keep a running list of endorsements at the top of my Twitter feed as they come in. You can find me on Twitter @JasonStahl__; my Instagram can be found at this link; my Facebook page is at this link; and my YouTube channel is at this link. Any player who wishes to talk further about my candidacy for this job, please to do not hesitate to reach out by direct messaging me on any platform or emailing me at jmstahl@gmail.com. I will make myself available by phone or video chat for any player that wants to talk. When a player is ready to publicly endorse, I invite him to do so on any social media platform by tagging me or in any other public way they deem appropriate.

To current and former head coaches, assistant coaches and graduate assistants, I am also seeking your endorsements as well and so do not hesitate to reach out if you want to talk. Many coaches have already expressed their support for a CFBPA and could definitely benefit from having one in place. Simply put, good coaches who care about the health and well-being of their players having nothing to fear from a CFBPA.

To everyone who is reading and is supportive of what I’m doing, please subscribe to this newsletter to stay informed and follow me across all social media in order to help promote my efforts. If you wish to help financially with my campaign, I ask that you consider a paid subscription for $5 a month. Otherwise, simply sign up for the newsletter for free. Further information on subscribing can be found at this link or you can simply enter your email here to subscribe:

It would be presumptuous of me to actually form a CFBPA at this point in time and to raise money through the actual entity itself given that I haven’t yet garnered player support to do so. So, at this point in time the primary way I’m going to fundraise is through subscriptions to this newsletter. This will allow me to continue to do this work full time while building support. Once I feel like it is time to form the actual organization because I have enough player support to do so, then I’ll begin raising money through that new entity.

Thanks to everyone for reading. I’m very excited to embark on this important project and hope that players will come to see me as the man for the job.

UPDATE, July 2, 2021: Since publishing the above newsletter, I have since written four “vision newsletters” where I’ve attempted to set forth how a CFBPA would work in practice. Here are the links:

Vision Newsletter #1: “The Limits of NIL

Vision Newsletter #2: “Who is Shawne Alston?

Vision Newsletter #3: “Players Association vs. Union

Vision Newsletter #4: “Charting the Path Ahead