NLRB: Private Schools Cannot Restrict Athletes’ Tweets | Athletic Business

NLRB: Private Schools Cannot Restrict Athletes’ Tweets

In an unprecedented move, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that Northwestern University must remove “unlawful” restrictions on football players’ expression, allowing them to post freely on social media or speak to media as they see fit.

According to, the ruling treats football players as employees, and means that new rules apply to football programs at private schools, such as Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford and others across the country. Public schools are not affected by the ruling because the NLRB governs only relations between private employers and their employees.

The ruling stems from a 2015 charge filed on behalf of Northwestern players by David Rosenfeld, a labor lawyer with the Almeda, Calif., firm Weinberg Roger & Rosenfeld alleging that Northwestern was engaged in unfair labor practices with its players. Though the NLRB refused to rule over the unfair labor practices allegations, it did not overturn the previous ruling that players were employees. 

From ABDo Social Media Bans Violate the First Amendment?

Using a Freedom of Information Act request, Rosenfeld acquired a copy of Northwestern’s team handbook, which indicates restrictive rules about social media use and speaking to the media.

Northwestern coaches and university police were allowed to “regularly monitor” player social media posts under these rules, and in some instances, force players to remove posts. Additionally, players were prohibited from discussing the team with outside individuals, and could not speak to the media except in the case of a pre-arranged interview agreed upon by the athletic department.

Northwestern agreed to eliminate or modify its rules during the NLRB proceedings, and the NLRB ultimately declared the rules unfair labor practices. Now, athletes are cautioned against certain posts and advised that university personnel can see social media posts. Players also can meet with members of the media freely and are allowed to discuss health and safety issues.

From AB: Blog: 9 Social Media Dos and Don'ts for Student-Athletes

In addition to softening Northwestern’s rules, the NLRB ruling also allows student-athletes an additional method of raising issues with agencies outside those that govern college athletics -- universities, conferences and the NCAA. 

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