In an unprecedented protest against NCAA protocols, football players from Georgia Tech, Georgia and Northwestern took to the gridiron with personally marked-up equipment to challenge the NCAA’s treatment of athletes on issues ranging from concussions to guaranteed scholarships.

Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee wrote “APU”, an acronym for All Players United, a signature of the protest evidently organized with the encouragement of the National College Players Association (NCPA), on his wrist tape in a game against North Carolina. He was joined by teammate Jeremiah Attaochu, a defensive end who also added the APU identification on his wrist tape and on a towel that hung from his waist. In Georgia’s game against North Texas, five Georgia offensive linemen launched a similar protest with their personal wrist tape. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter expressed the most visible protest, displaying the “APU” letters in a large white form on his black wrist tape.

Ramogi Huma, president of the NCPA, stated that “the players’ gesture was months in the making.” The NCPA is a nonprofit advocacy organization, founded in 2001 by football players at UCLA. It currently claims more than 17,000 members and bills itself as “the only independent voice for college athletes across the nation.” Huma commented that players plan to continue to use their visibility on nationally televised games to draw attention to the effort.

“They have been using their bodies to make money for the people who run NCAA sports. Now, for the first time, they’re using their bodies to push for basic protections at the very least,” Huma added.

The NCPA said the goals of the players’ protest is to:

  • Demonstrate unity among college athletes and fans in favor of NCAA reform
  • Show support for players who joined concussion lawsuits against the NCAA, which could force the NCAA to finally take meaningful steps to minimize brain trauma in contact sports and to provide resources for current and former players suffering with brain injuries
  • Show supports for the players who came forward  in a lawsuit over the use of players’ images and likenesses by the NCAA
  • Stand behind players the NCPA claims is being “harmed by NCAA rules”

NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osborn, responding to the protest, stated, “As a higher education association, the NCAA supports open and civil debate regarding all aspects of college athletics. Student-athletes across all 23 sports provide an important voice in discussions as NCAA members offer academic and athletic opportunities to help the more than 450,000 student-athletes achieve their full potential.”

The NCPA, which is supported by the United Steelworkers union, is also seeking a portion of the NCAA’s $1 billion in new television revenue to guarantee basic protections for the student-athletes. These protections include guaranteed scholarship renewals for permanently injured players, the promise that injured players will not have to pay any sports-related medical bills, an increase in scholarship aid, and the establishment of an educational “trust fund” that players could tap into after their eligibility expires.

Huma concluded, “This is a campaign designed by players that gets the issue in front of people in a way they’re comfortable with.”