Northwestern University is not allowed to restrict how its football players use social media and speak with reporters, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Northwestern had previously barred its football players from freely tweeting or discussing team matters, a policy that the NLRB said -- in a memorandum obtained by ESPN -- was "overly broad." The memorandum does not establish an official ruling but would likely apply to other private colleges with similar policies if athletes were to challenge them. Northwestern updated its policy earlier this year.
In the memorandum, the NLRB's general counsel referred to the players as "employees." The NLRB's regional office in Chicago ruled in 2014 that Northwestern's football players were employees after players there attempted to unionize. The university appealed the ruling to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, urging the board to reverse that decision. Last year, the NLRB declined to assert jurisdiction over the matter, ending the drive to unionize at Northwestern, but leaving the possibility that athletes at private colleges are actually employees open to further debate.