Athletes now use the right to vote as a form of activism

As sports returned to the public eye of the United States, so did the urge for social justice when people rallied into the streets of America to protest the aggressive nature police have towards African American men. 

This however did not go unnoticed by professional sports leagues and athletes who also shared the same sentiment as the protestors. Players would wear articles of clothing that had a message to the public such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “Peace, Equality, Freedom,” and “Sí Se Puede” (Yes We Can).

Pro athletes went onto social media to voice their opinion on the matter with tweets, hashtags, and images showing their disapproval. In light of all the chaos, they would ask people to help be a change so that moments like these would never happen again.

The one change people do have is their ability to vote. 

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Many athletes have been pushing for people to vote across the county by either showing it in their games or talking about it via social media. One of the biggest pro athletes leading this charge is none other than four-time NBA champion and Los Angeles Lakers star forward LeBron James.

James encouraged people to go out and exercise their right to vote in a recent Twitter video. 

“We are right around the corner, make sure you get ya’lls ballots, fill them out, get them cast in, mail them out, get them sent in, do not wait around and get it down,” James said. “Voting is very important and we know how very important this moment is.”

 James, the four-time NBA finals MVP, has been known for voicing his opinion of the social justice topic whenever given the opportunity. Normally, James has been known to go dark on social media during his team’s postseason runs. However, he elected to stay active on all social media accounts during his championship run with the Lakers, giving NBA fans a first look at what James was focused on when his attention was not on the basketball court.

He used his platform to talk about the events involving Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, displaying his initiative to bring social and racial injustice to light every chance he had. He took it one step further by recently starting a voting rights organization known as More Than A Vote and is now in a partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

On the More Than A Vote website, the organization has a letter that describes itself as “a coalition of Black athletes and artists who came together amid the protests fueled by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police.”

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It also says its creators are “focused on systemic, targeted voter suppression in our community and have a specific mission: educate, energize and protect Black voters.”

“Our organization is not here to tell you who to vote for,” the letter reads. “As individuals, we may choose to talk about specific policies or candidates, but as a team, we came together to focus on one issue this year: systemic racism’s impact on our right to vote.”

Including James, the document has been signed by Allyson Feliz, Draymond Green, Lisa Leslie, and many more who are involved. In connection with the NAACP, 10,000 people signed up to volunteer as poll workers. It was a major milestone as they plan to tackle systemic, racist voter suppression.

“People don’t truly understand how important it is to vote not only on the federal level but your state and local level are so important to get out there and vote,” Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics said in a statement for More Than A Vote. “And I don’t think enough people are educated on the power that they have with that one simple ballot. So making sure our communities are going out and educationally voting for the person that is right for our community.”

Sports leagues in the country had been in favor of social justice change and have been promoting Black Lives Matter on the playing fields such as the NBA and Major League Soccer. This past summer, the National Football League announced NFL Votes, “a league-wide, non-partisan initiative that will support and encourage the civic engagement and voting of NFL players, legends, club and league personnel, and NFL fans from now until Election Day.”

  their new voting inactive that has now begun promoting the election by having the word  “VOTE,” painted onto the sidelines of the field in a few games.

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“Today marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was meant to ensure the right to vote for all Americans, prohibiting discrimination in voting based on race or color,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when the initiative was announced. “Through meeting with players and legends to better understand causes and issues they are passionate about, we found a consensus around the importance of voting. That’s why we’re putting the power of our platform behind NFL Votes, aiming to inspire and encourage people to get educated about the voting process, to get registered to vote, and to ultimately exercise their right to vote.”

It may be difficult to say how all these efforts have influenced the voting turn-out right now, but some early stats say there will be a spike. As many as 99 million people voted before Nov. 3, according to the website MIC. As many as 150 million people voted in total. That would mean an eligible voter turnout rate of more than 62 percent. 

The U.S. Elections Project, using a turnout-tracking database run by the University of Florida and overseen by professor Michael McDonald, released a study to show the high volume voter turnout for this election. According to this study, nearly 100 million people (99.6) voted before Election Day.  

In an interview with NPR, McDonald said he believes that with the spike in numbers that the nation is seeing in regards to the voter turnout rate, could be more than 62 percent.

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“It’s good news because we were very much concerned about how it would be possible to conduct an election during a pandemic,” McDonald said. “Instead, what appears to be happening is people are voting earlier and spreading out the workload for election officials.”

The U.S Elections Project stated that voters cast 72.5 percent of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election. When analyzing the past voter turnout percentages, 2016: Donald Trump v Hillary had a total of 60.1 percent votes count, the second-highest. The largest percentage that took part in the General Election came in 2008 with former President Barack Obama defeated Sen. John McCain with 61.65 percent of the vote.

“The key is to be able to sustain both our spirits our hope and our focus,” Obama said in a special edition of The Shop: Uninterrupted, which features James. “We vote and we get a win like the voting rights act or the civil rights act. We consolidate that power and then we go at it all over again to go after the next injustice. Sometimes it gets exhausting and sometimes it doesn’t feel fair, but the idea that you would just stop and give up would be a betrayal to our ancestors. It would be a betrayal Black and Whtie, and Latino, and Asian who fought to allow us to sit here.” 

Photo of Portland Trail Blazers stars Damian Lillard protesting early 2020 appears courtesy of Matthew Roth via Flickr

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