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Several football players take part in protest for NCAA reforms

By Sara Ganim, CNN
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 2030 GMT (0430 HKT)
Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee scrambles Saturday against North Carolina.
Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee scrambles Saturday against North Carolina.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The "All Players United Campaign" took to football fields on Saturday
  • About two dozen players at three schools wore the letters "APU" on their gear Saturday
  • The campaign is aimed at reforms in the NCAA to protect athletes' rights and safety
  • Group's president: Movement is aimed to change NCAA's "misplaced" priorities

Atlanta (CNN) -- More than two dozen college players on three major Division I football teams staged an unauthorized protest of the NCAA during their games Saturday.

With black marker, they wrote the letters "APU" standing for "All Players United" on their gear as part of a pledge calling for NCAA reform.

The pledge, designed by the nonprofit group the National College Players Association (NCPA), calls for the NCAA to take more steps to minimize brain trauma, and for money to be designated to increase scholarships and graduation rates, and guarantee medical treatment.

It also includes support for those involved in Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit against the NCAA. O'Bannon, a former UCLA basketball star, is suing for the rights to his own likeness in video games and TV broadcasts.

"The priorities are misplaced and part of this movement is to address that," said Ramogi Huma, president of the NCPA.

Twenty-eight athletes playing for Northwestern, University of Georgia and Georgia Tech were seen participating.

"I think it was a smart decision by the players to design a campaign as visible as the logos that they wear," Huma said.

Mixed reaction on protest

After the games, the NCAA said in a statement that it "supports open and civil debate regarding all aspects of college athletics."

But there was less room for discourse after the Georgia Tech game, where head coach Paul Johnson said, "I assure you that now that I am aware of it we'll talk to them about it."

Two players who participated at two different universities told CNN they wanted to talk about it, but backed out of interviews after their respective games.

CNN caught up with two other players who wore APU on their gear after the Georgia Tech game.

Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee backed away from his actions, saying he wrote it as a favor to injured teammate Isaiah Johnson.

Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu told CNN that he, too, made a last-minute decision to wear APU, but that he does believe in the cause.

"I know the guys out there go to Georgia Tech and don't have the academics to fall back and things like that so, you know, looking out for everybody," Attaochu said.

A team handler who was standing nearby discouraged CNN from asking questions about the pledge, and cut questions short.

Huma, the NCPA president, later told CNN that he hadn't heard of any players being disciplined for wearing the gear.

Controversies plague NCAA

The silent protest is just another example of growing dissent for the NCAA.

Controversies over suspending players, handling of academic scandals, players' rights and medical concerns plague the organization.

This summer, Pennsylvania Congressman Charles Dent introduced legislation that would overhaul the NCAA.

"This is big business. 6.1 billion dollars annually," Dent said. "A lot of people are profiting off this. I would not say that the students are."

Dent said he's particularly troubled by the fact that the NCAA can cut short a player's education if they get hurt.

"Let's be clear, and the concussion issue relates to the scholarship issue," Dent said. "If a student feels ... that they are going to lose their athletic scholarship because of a concussion or some injury, something that is not necessarily visible, he'll be less inclined to report that injury out of fear that they're going to lose a scholarship."

Huma said the NCAA doesn't force universities to pay medical bills for injured players, and that if a student doesn't graduate before their eligibility expires, they aren't guaranteed an education.

He also sees a great disparity in who profits from the games.

A former UCLA linebacker, Huma told CNN he started the NCPA in 2001 after he watched a teammate get suspended by the NCAA for accepting groceries -- a violation of the rule that athletes can't accept gifts.

"And at the time they were selling his jerseys at the stores and it just really made me feel like college athletes needed a voice," Huma said.

The NCPA has grown into a nonprofit that says it has 17,000 members.

"Any way we can gain leverage, we try," Huma said. "We feel like we're on the right side of the argument and we're going to succeed."

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