I Like Ernie Chambers


Unless you are from Nebraska, chances are you have never heard of Ernie Chambers. For a time in the 1970’s, I was from Nebraska and that is where I first encountered him. “Learned about” would be a better description than “encountered” because I never met Ernie Chambers.

There is probably also a better word than “like” because he might have done and said many things I would not have liked.  He had one idea, however, that I found very appealing.


From 1971 to 2009, Ernie Chambers was one of 47 Senators in the single house of the Nebraska legislature called the Unicameral. It is a non-partisan legislature so Ernie is theoretically an independent. Most of the other 46 would have thought his views to be rather to the left of theirs. He was term limited but sat out a four-year hiatus and now he is back in his old State Senate seat.

Ernie Chambers has sued God and is thought by some to hate white people, but he wants to recognize the players on the Nebraska football team as state employees so they can claim workers compensation if they get injured. This is deeply upsetting to the NCAA and to a goodly number of Nebraska’s 1,856,000 inhabitants a.k.a. Husker football fans, but back in the 70′s I liked the idea that Ernie Chambers was probably right. A little lonely maybe, but probably right.

Thanks to an article by Ben Strauss In The New York Times entitled “In a First, Northwestern Players Seek Unionization,” I learned about the College Athletes Players Association and the desire of a group of Northwestern football players to form a union. It made me think of Ernie.

Much has been written about college athletes and the NCAA. As Casey Stengel is credited with saying (even though it was actually James Thurber), “you could look it up.” And you might as well because I am not going to repeat it here.

Just one new thought, as the endlessly serious spokes flacks  drone on about the amateur ideal and student athletes: what do you think is the marginal cost of adding one additional athlete to the student body?

Marginal cost is, of course, the cost attributable solely to that person. Do they hire more professors? Nope. Offer more courses (other than those designed to keep players eligible)? Nope. Build more classrooms? Nope.

The marginal cost to the university not to the athletic program is virtually nothing.

Ernie Chambers has known that for years.