KENOSHA — From his appearances on “The Sports Writers on TV” on the old Chicago-based Sports Channel to Sports Illustrated to currently ESPN, Lester Munson has made a career discussing and reporting on major issues in the sports industry.
The lifelong Chicago resident was a guest speaker Tuesday night at Carthage College’s Tarble Arena and gave about a 30-minute presentation titled “Sports, Money and Power” followed by a 15-minute question-and-answer session with members of the audience.
Here are some highlights from Munson’s appearance:
Munson said it’s not yet known how the court case involving Northwestern University football players will be resolved. The football players claim they are “employees” who have a legal right to form a union and be paid for their services, while the university claims they are “student-athletes” who already receive benefits worth thousands of dollars that cover tuition, room and board, etc. and are not eligible to receive wages.
Briefs will be filed Monday in Chicago, and the National Labor Relations Board regional director will issue a ruling soon after that. The “loser” of the decision will then likely appeal to the NLRB in Washington, D.C.
This is a ground-breaking case because no college athletes have ever before attempted to form a union. Munson noted this case would only apply to private universities in NCAA Division I such as Northwestern, Stanford and Southern California.
The NLRB has previously heard four related cases involving graduate-assistant coaches and twice ruled they were “students” and twice ruled they were “employees.”
“So who knows what they will do with the Northwestern football players union,” Munson said.
Munson spent several minutes recapping investigations over the last decade on former Major League Baseball stars such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and their alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. Obviously a serious and controversial issue, Munson, a Chicago Cubs fan, took a minute to humor the audience by noting how he didn’t approve of the workout regimen of ex-Cub Kerry Wood.
“Kerry Wood’s idea of a workout was to jog from the third-base dugout out to the warning track in right field and then walk back. That was it,” Munson said. “As a Cub fan, do I want him on steroids? Yes. I want him to work out six hours a day to be able to pitch like Roger Clemens. Did Kerry Wood do that? No. He was just a jogger who could throw hard and gradually got worse and worse and worse as a pitcher. So as a fan, do you want these drugs? Maybe you do. As a journalist, I have to say, ‘It’s cheating. We can’t have this kind of stuff.’ ”
Later, because of ever-advancing technology in creating and masking PEDs, Munson said, “Baseball would love to have the Steroid Era come to an end, but it simply is not happening and there is probably more to come.”
Munson noted sentiment among about 5,000 former NFL players is shifting to not support the tentative $765 million settlement they reached with the NFL last summer for long-term damage suffered by players as a result of concussions. One of the ex-players’ objections is to a $112 million lawyers fee, which Munson (a lawyer himself) called “ridiculous.”
“These guys (lawyers) have done basically nothing,” Munson said. “The litigation so far has been a word processing contest. They have not found out anything about whether the league concealed the dangers of concussions. They have not taken any testimony, any discovery, any depositions from anybody in the league. ... It’s money that obviously should go to the players and not to the lawyers.”
Munson said the biggest evidence of the damage inflicted by concussions involves former Chicago Bear and Carthage board member Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in February 2011.
“His entire life began to collapse because his brain was no longer functioning. So he’s a classic example of what multiple concussions can do to an elite football player,” Munson said. “... The owners and the commissioner want this to come to an end, but I don’t think it’s coming to an end. I think it’s going to continue.”
In the Q&A session, Munson said:
— He thinks baseball, softball and wrestling will be re-instated into the Summer Olympics within a few years, along with adding ballroom dancing.
— If college athletes are allowed to form unions, they will likely only include NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball players, who would be separate from the NCAA. Division III colleges like Carthage would not likely be affected. “I cannot imagine that anything will happen to Division III. Even the NCAA is not that stupid that they would disrupt something that is going so well.”
— He thinks NCAA Division III athletes will not receive athletic scholarships in the future. (They currently are only eligible to receive academic and need-based scholarships.)
— He doesn’t think the Milwaukee Bucks will move, despite their problems getting funding for a new arena. “I have not heard anybody suggest that the Bucks are seriously considering leaving. I know it comes up from time to time. ... I’m not sure there is anywhere to go. They’re never moving to Las Vegas, no matter what anybody says. Even under the new (NBA) commissioner, Adam Silver, there is no chance of them moving there, so where are they going to go? I think they will stay, and you can probably rely on that for quite a while.”