Tampa attorney Chris Griffin calls NLRB decision on Northwestern football players "a bombshell"


A bombshell in college athletics took place this week when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern University may have the right to form a union and bargain collectively. 
Tampa native Chris Griffin will serve as finance chair for John Dingfelder's judicial campaign
  • Tampa native Chris Griffin will serve as finance chair for John Dingfelder's judicial campaign
Northwestern immediately responded that it would challenge the ruling, and expectations are that the NCAA will likely join the fight if the ruling isn't overturned.

"I do think it's going to be overturned by the courts," Chris Griffin told CL on Thursday night. Griffin is an attorney with the Tampa law firm of Foley & Lardner, and serves as a member of the  Division I Committee on Infractions, an independent body that decides if NCAA rules have been broken and, if so, what the appropriate penalties should be.

Griffin confesses that he knows little about labor law, but says that his friends in the legal world who do were stunned by the NLRB's decision.

"But man, if that doesn't get overturned, it's a whole different world then. It's a whole different world."

The  College Athletes Players Association is the organization behind trying to unionize Northwestern University's athletes. Among their demands are calling for scholarship amounts to be increased, for players to be allowed to be paid for sponsorships, and a fairer process for handling accusations of rule violations. 

Griffin says that somewhat surprisingly, his Committee on Infractions hasn't reviewed a case since they debated the situation with the University of Miami last June. That was the case involving a rogue booster named Nevin Shapiro who accused the school's athletics program of rampant violations and providing improper benefits for former UM players and coaches.

In October, the NCAA announced penalties for that athletic program, though they were considered relatively mild. The football team lost nine scholarships over a three-year probationary period, while the Hurricanes basketball program will lose three scholarships, one each for the next three years.

"Either people aren't breaking the rules, or they're not getting caught," Griffin joked about his committee's dearth of investigations of late.

Griffin was at the Tampa Firefighters Museum on Thursday night making his "political comeback." He announced that after a four-year exile from Tampa politics he will now serve as the finance chairman for John Dingfelder's campaign to be a judge in Hillsborough County's 13th Circuit Court this year.

"It took one phone call from one person to make me change that decision [to drop out of politics], and that was the phone call from John Dingfelder asking me to chair his finance committee," he told a crowd of over 100 people at the Firefighters Museum gathered for a fund-raiser for the former Tampa City Councilman's latest campaign.

"There's not that many people I would do that for, but John is one and I'm extremely, very, very proud to be chair of his finance chair," Griffin told the audience.

The son of former Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Jack Griffin (who recently passed away at the age of 89), the 59-year-old Griffin was for decades a prominent Democrat in Hillsborough County politics before deciding to "hang up his spurs," as he told the audience, about four years ago. He had been a ubiquitous presence on local television shows for years advocating for the Democrats (often dueling Republican media consultant Adam Goodman on Kathy Fountain's former Fox 13 talk show) before opting to fade out of the spotlight.

Other notables at the event included County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, City Council member Yolie Capin, and Alex Sink, who told CL that she's still very open to the possibility of running again for Congress against David Jolly in CD13 later this year.

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