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.”



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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.