Northwestern Football Lives “On the Waterfront” a Mile from Lake Michigan

by Kent Sterling

Trevor Siemian balked at his chance to change the game.  Too bad - he coulda been a contender.

Current Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian balked at his chance to change the game. Too bad – he coulda been a contender.

Northwestern Football coach Pat Fitzgerald is never going to be portrayed on film by Lee J. Cobb, nor quarterback Trevor Siemian by Marlon Brando – and not just because both actors are dead.

Fitzgerald would never threaten to kill Siemian, as Cobb did with Brando in “On the Waterfront,” but he did ask his players to vote against forming a union.  The tacit message might have been inferred as, “Those who vote to unionize may find snaps hard to come by this season.”

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“On the Waterfront” is a 1954 film depicting the difficulties for already unionized dock workers as Brando’s character fights the corrupt union boss (Cobb).  Day workers who complain about the conditions or pay get the freeze out and don’t work.  Those who toe the company line get paid.

Siemian came out against the tactic employed by former quarterback Kain Colter in trying to form a union so issues like lifelong scholarships and health coverage can include input from the athletes those policies directly affect.  He is quoted on the ESPN Chicago website, as being “treated far better than I deserve” at Northwestern.

It bears mention that Kolter never pursued unionizing the Northwestern football team until his eligibility ended.  Nothing to lose makes a man strong and reveals principles otherwise conveniently hidden.  That’s not to say that Kolter might not have seen the light if his professor had asked why football players aren’t considered employees a year earlier, but the timeline is what the timeline is.

So the boss, frightened by the specter of change, asks his charges to reject the opportunity for greater representation and perhaps a more expensive paradigm.  The team leader acquiesces, saying in effect that he’s lucky the opportunity to work exists at all.

So exactly how aren’t Northwestern football players employees?  Might be instructive for Siemian to catch “On the Waterfront” next time it’s on Turner Classic Movies.

5 thoughts on “Northwestern Football Lives “On the Waterfront” a Mile from Lake Michigan

  1. Bob Ashworth
    The $59,000.00+ in yearly room, board, tuition and fees is not pay? For those not on an athletic grant in aid; how long would they or their parents have to work and save to go to NU for one year? Training table, free books, free tutoring, free medical, and many other perks. A small laundry money or late meal stipend might be appropriate, but they are living pretty large. Northwestern’s football team is a contender year in and year out under the marvelous Pat Fitzgerald. With a little luck they could have been in 2012 BCS Championshaip game and in 2014 they probably have the Big Ten’s best corps of skilled players. D. Spellman must be thinking of Crean’s Clowns, you know, Yogi and the Movement. lol

    1. kentsterling Post author

      The free medical is hardly a perk when the activity responsible for great wealth causes the injury, and it ends with their eligibility despite needs that might last a lifetime. Pay coaches as professors and the dynamic makes even less sense, but at least there would be a little equanimity.

      You should be proud that your alma mater is turning out free thinking young men who understand injustice when they see it. That a professor put the notion in Colter’s head is all the better. A high quality education produces smart people, and smart people work to right wrongs.

      Ironic that the scales of justice are being recalibrated by those for whom an education serves as inadequate compensation.

      1. Bob Ashworth

        Isn’t COLTER’S FATHER A NFLPA-R union member??? Perhaps even an employee? Northwester football platers (unlike UNC and many others) can read,write, and cifer. They don’t need this as most aspire to have an outstanding degree and a professional career in something meanongful. Not the NFL or NBA.

        1. kentsterling Post author

          The dad played at Colorado and is a high school football coach. The uncle was a really good college player, but was hurt at USC, if I remember right. He never made it to the NFL.

          Why is it bad to use that education to help being some equanimity to a system in dire need of some. A kid breaks his knee as a senior, once he graduates, he’s on his own.

          I would be proud of a kid using his education from my university to right what he believes to be a wrong.


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