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CHICAGO – The increasingly contentious and complicated relationship between the NCAA and its top amateur athletes took another step toward a legal showdown Tuesday when a group of Northwestern football players appealed to the National Labor Relations Board with the first effort by college athletes to join a labor union.

Kain Colter, Northwestern’s starting quarterback last season, was joined by Ramogi Huma, president of the newly formed College Athletes Players Association, and Leo W. Gerard, president and political director of United Steelworkers, to announce a petition had been filed on behalf of Colter and teammates to seek union representation.

“College athletes need a labor organization that can give them a seat at the table,” former UCLA linebacker Huma said. “This ends a period of 60 years when the NCAA has knowingly established a pay-for-play system while using terms like ‘student-athlete’ and ‘amateurism’ to skirt labor laws.”

Although payment of players in Football Bowl Subdivision programs and Division I basketball universities has become a thorny issue given the billions of dollars generated by the sports, Colter said medical care — particularly expenses after graduation — was his biggest concern.

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“The same medical issues that professional athletes face are the same medical issues collegiate athletes face, except we’re left unprotected,” Colter said. “The NFL has the NFLPA, the NBA has the NBAPA and now college athletes have the College Athletes Players Association.”

The NCAA issued a rejoinder in a statement by its chief legal officer, Donald Remy.

“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education,” Remy said.

The labor-law dispute might come down to whether college athletes are considered students, employees, or some hybrid.

The NLRB’s regional Chicago office will hold a hearing and rule if Northwestern football players are employees, a decision that can be appealed to the federal board in Washington.

Willamette kicker says he is bisexual

SALEM, Ore. – Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman kicker at Division III Willamette, announced he is bisexual.

“It got to a point where I just got tired of it, trying to hide who I was and trying to pretend I was something I was not,” he said.

Mertens, 19, is a graduate of Southridge High School in Kennewick and wore a Seattle Mariners baseball cap to a news conference.

Mertens announced his sexual orientation to teammates during a meeting Monday.

Bearcats coach Glen Fowles said players were overwhelmingly supportive of Mertens’ decision.

“It’s been great to see the way our guys have rallied around,” Fowles said.

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