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AFL-LSU? Do Minors Have the Right to Unionize?

Football Field A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that football players at Northwestern University who receive full scholarships are employees of the university and are entitled to unionize. Players recently voted on whether or not they wished to unionize but their ballots are sealed pending litigation. It may be months or years before we know their decision. The NLRB regional director’s decision, assuming that it is affirmed during the judicial review process, has many implications for players as well as their parents.

In Louisiana, the age of majority is 18. Until age 18, a person is considered a child and is under the authority of his parents. When parents divorce, authority over a child’s person and property is determined during the custody proceedings. Can parents vote as proxies for their children who have received football scholarships but have not yet reached the age of 18?

While children are minors, there are state and federal restrictions on their employment. If football is paid employment (for students with athletic scholarships), there may also be tax consequences whether a player is a minor or has reached the age of 18. Who will negotiate on the college players’ behalf? What impact will unionization have on college play? Do minors have the right to unionize?

Given the youth and limited life experience of many college athletes, wolves may get into the football fold and shear the sheep. The director’s decision will undoubtedly have many unintended consequences. Whether they are good or bad is unlikely to be seen for many years.

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