Reviewing the Tape II
What We Learned from the First CFBPA Action (Part 2 of 3)
This is a free online newsletter for Jason Stahl, Executive Director of the College Football Players Association (CFBPA). If you are a member of the general public who would like to financially support our efforts at the CFBPA you can do that here. If you are a past, present or future college football player, I ask that you consider becoming a member of the CFBPA. We have just lowered the dues for our High School Members and our Current Player Members to $1 per year. Donors from the general public and new Alumni College Football Player Members helped to make this possible.
As regular readers know, we’re in the process of reviewing the lessons and successes of our first action at Penn State University. In the first part of the series, our first lesson learned was that we need to have a leadership team in place for whatever our next action may be. On the other hand, we discussed how we were successful in changing the narrative regarding the coming Big Ten media rights deal and player health. Today, in part two of our three-part series, we present our second lesson learned and our second success stemming from our first action.
Lesson #2: Some at the University of Minnesota will continue to pose problems for the growth of the CFBPA. As I discussed two newsletters ago, University of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan lobbied behind the scenes to undermine the actions of the CFBPA at Penn State. Several reporters asked me about this—confused as to why this seemingly unrelated player would lobby so intensely to thwart our action at Penn State. The short answer is this—I have a past at Minnesota which may continue to pose problems as we head forward with the growth of the CFBPA. So, I want to air that past one more time so it is better known to all when we take our next action. The administrators, head coach and a small handful of current and former players at Minnesota will likely continue to work behind the scenes to stop CFBPA activities because of my past there and so I want to make sure the public understands that this is happening and why.
From 2017 to 2020, while a professor at the University of Minnesota, I had many football players as students. These players came to trust me and eventually described to me an environment under Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck which bothered me a great deal. As such, I became a whistleblower reporter during that period of time. I issued two separate reports regarding the health, safety and welfare of players on the team. I believe that this reporting led to my demotion from a leadership position on campus. I decided to resign rather than accept that demotion. For the longer story with documentation, please see my first post at this newsletter written over two years ago.
I started this newsletter to tell the stories of the players I had been advocating for—largely the outcasts and unknowns of college football. To this day, the most viewed story I have ever written was the story of my former student Grant Norton who played for Minnesota. I also tried to delineate why I thought the cult-like environment under P.J. Fleck was uniquely bad. I described the enabling role of Minnesota Athletic Director Mark Coyle. I did all of this in the fall of 2020 to try to get someone, anyone, to take action to remedy these problems. However, just as when I was a professor, no one did.
Additionally, I have learned in the past year that there was a second whistleblower at Minnesota reporting on significant problems within the Department of Athletics. This person was reporting within the same time period that I did. This person has yet to tell their story publicly and this is the first time the public has been made aware that a second whistleblower in addition to myself even exists. This person lost their job for reporting their concerns.
Once I found this out, it further strengthened my resolve to make the CFBPA a success. We need a new, independent entity responsible to the players that can investigate and regulate football programs for health, safety and welfare concerns. Investigations should be tied to real punishments for administrators and coaches until identified problems are cleaned up. Even in a case like Minnesota, where two whistleblowers and player after player after player after player after player come forward to describe a toxic workplace full of player mistreatment and manipulation, nothing is done. The NCAA does nothing, the Big Ten does nothing and the university does nothing except cover up and retaliate. The CFBPA must step into this leadership void to protect the vast majority of players who do not benefit from such programs.
Success #2: We showed this new type of independent investigatory leadership at Penn State. What type of program is Penn State football? Is it the type of program that has the systemic problems common to every university and which our platform is designed to address? Or, is it more like Minnesota’s current program—in need of a serious full-scale truly independent investigation because it has a uniquely rotten culture? If it is the former, as I’ve discussed many times in the past, we would be willing to work with ADs and head coaches at such programs to implement change. If it is the latter, leadership change at the program might be necessary before working directly with the university.
Heading to Penn State for my week-long trip there, I honestly didn’t know what I was going to find but I was excited to once again have the opportunity to speak with players directly about their experiences. As with Minnesota, I knew this opportunity would give the CFBPA an opportunity to break the black box that is every college football offseason training program. We were successful in doing this and I’m happy about that.
I went into Penn State with open eyes. Obviously, Penn State Athletics has a long history of criminal activity within its football program stemming from the sex crimes of Jerry Sandusky. However, of more immediate and pressing concern to me was the existence of a more present-day whistleblower under current head coach James Franklin. In 2019, Dr. Scott Lynch, a physician with the Penn State football team, alleged that he was retaliated against after raising concerns that Franklin was rushing injured players back onto the field too quickly and interfering with medical decisions more generally. The fact that Dr. Lynch was himself a former All-American Penn State wrestler led credibility to the complaint. The suit was ultimately dismissed but only because Lynch and his attorney missed the filing deadline for such cases by three days.
It is a shame the suit was dismissed on a technicality as I think it likely had merit given my discussions with Penn State players. However, even if the suit had moved forward and Dr. Lynch had been successful in his case, there likely would have been no real reform of the underlying systemic problem. This problem is that college football players largely do not receive truly independent medical care. This is why independent medical care is a central CFBPA platform plank and was a central platform plank on our Penn State campaign. To truly be made a reality, full-time CFBPA employee advocates will need to be on the ground enforcing the plank. I look forward to the day this becomes a reality at Penn State and every college football program.