Texas defensive back Caden Sterns (7) celebrates a 45-14 win over Louisiana Tech at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Aug. 31, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Football

As Longhorns plead for their season, Texas star Caden Sterns joins a call to unionize

Posted August 10th, 2020

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Texas junior safety Caden Sterns has lent his support to a group calling for universal safety procedures and the eventual formation of a union for college football players.

On Sunday night, Sterns was among those who published a tweet with the “WeWantToPlay” hashtag. A widely-shared graphic that was tweeted by Sterns reaffirmed a desire by college football players to play this fall.

The graphic also demanded that the NCAA establish universal safety procedures and protocols to protect athletes against COVID-19. It requested the preservation of eligibility for athletes who choose to not play this season. Finally, the graphic stated that the group aimed to “Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials; ultimately create a college football players association.”

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler were among the notable players who placed the graphic on their Twitter timelines. Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard cut short a hiatus from social media for the blitz of tweets.

Last weekend, the “We Are United” campaign began as Pac-12 athletes threatened to sideline themselves unless their demands about safety, social justice and compensation were met. Over 1,000 athletes then raised their own concerns about safety in the Big Ten on Wednesday. A few days later, a coalition of football players from the five Power 5 Conferences joined the conversation.

Is a union for college athletes feasible? Former UT linebacker Sam Acho thinks so. Acho, who is currently the vice president on the NFLPA’s executive committee, told the American-Statesman on Monday that “not only do I feel it’s feasible, I think it’s necessary.”

“College athletics and the NCAA do a really good job of exploiting student-athletes,” Acho said. “People say, ‘Well, you get a scholarship and you have an opportunity to play professionally,’ but in all reality, schools are making millions if not billions of dollars, and athletes, there’s just been excuse after excuse as to why you cannot pay the athletes. For me, that’s the definition of exploitation. I think the student-athletes do need some sort of protective mechanism to keep them from being exploited.”

The State’s Matt Connolly reported that Clemson running back Darien Rencher was among the “WeWantToPlay” leaders and helped organized a Zoom meeting with over a dozen players from the five Power 5 conferences. Hubbard represented the Big 12 on the call.

No Longhorns participated in the “WeWantToPlay” planning session on Zoom. Sterns and UT receiver Tarik Black, a graduate transfer who spent the past three years at Michigan, did join the initial wave of athletes who shared the group’s graphic. Texas defensive back D’Shawn Jamison tweeted out the “WeWantToPlay” hashtag.

Sterns also tweeted on Sunday that he had “Worked way too hard for the season to be canceled.” Several of Sterns’ teammates used their Twitter accounts to echo those sentiments.

Rumors were rampant this weekend that due to fears about the coronavirus pandemic, the cancellation of the college football season was imminent. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby later told the American-Statesman that no decision had been made in his conference.

This is not the first time that the Longhorns have used social media to promote a unified message. In June, around 40 athletes demanded that UT address some racial issues on its campus. That led to the university promising a series of changes that included the renaming of the Robert L. Moore Building and an investment into recruiting and retaining Black students.

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