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Senators Burr, Alexander ‘benefitted enormously’ as student-athletes

Each recalls their experience while defending collegiate model on Senate floor

Two U.S. Senators on Thursday recalled their own experiences as student-athletes while speaking out against the unionization of college sports.  

Referring to the March 26 ruling by a National Labor Relations Board regional director that identified Northwestern football players as employees who could unionize, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., took to the Senate floor to offer their personal beliefs about the damaging impacts they felt unionization would have, particularly on small schools, private schools, and women’s sports.

Alexander, a 1962 Vanderbilt University graduate, was a walk-on for the track and field team who helped set a new school record in the 440-yard relay. He was inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011. Burr was a scholarship defensive back at Wake Forest University, where he graduated from in 1978. 

“Here are two former student-athletes of varying talents who benefited enormously from that,” Alexander said. “There are many others who would say the same. The university does not owe us anything. We owe the university—at least that is the way I feel about it—for the privilege of competing, for the privilege of attending.”

Burr added that unionization would likely disrupt the foundation of college sports.

“I plead with those who play today,” Burr said, “do you truly believe you can form a team if in fact you have individuals who negotiate individual things for themselves?”

Alexander urged other student-athletes to consider the value of their opportunity to compete. The idea student-athletes receive nothing in return for their athletic contributions is “financially wrong,” he argued. In addition to a college degree, which the College Board estimates is worth $1 million over the course of a lifetime, the senator said he received discipline, memories and competition from his collegiate sports career.

“The idea of intercollegiate athletics is that the teams represent their institutions as true members of the student body, not as hired hands,” Alexander said. “I continue to believe that athletes are students first, not professionals,” Alexander said. "Some of the concerns raised by these college athletes are legitimate, but unions are not the solution.”

Read the full transcript of Alexander and Burr’s comments.