Voting is a matter of civic duty for student-athletes

This year’s election may have been the most impactful and influential voting season the United States has ever had in its history.  The presidential battle between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump went down to the wire with votes being counted days after the election. 

People from all walks of life went out of their way to assist eligible voters to do what they can in order to cast their ballot. One of the most important voters that have a say in each election is the college student. 

Across Southern California, universities and their athletic programs organized in different ways to get their student-athletes involved. Some schools launched initiatives throughout their athletic department and others worked with campus organizations to help devote time to the election. 

Schools such as Long Beach State University (LBSU), California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), Loyola Marymount University (LMU), UCLA, and USC (University of Southern California) all had goals of getting all of their student-athletes registered to vote.  

USC women's basketball star Jordyn Jenkins with her ballot.
USC women’s basketball player Jordyn Jenkins at the Galen Center with her ballot. Photo credit: USC Athletics

For USC, registering everyone to vote went through the athletics department as well with each sports program challenging each other to get everyone and their squads to vote. USC made it easier for its student-athletes to do so. Mike Bohn, the school’s athletic director, announced in August that student-athletes would be given the day off from all athletic activities on Election Day.

This decision was influenced by help from the USC United Black Student-Athlete Association (UBSAA), Trojan Athletic Senate and the USC Athletics Black Lives Matter Action Team and advisory committee.

“This is an important step towards allowing the student-athletes to be more than athletes, but to also be an important part of society,” said USC senior hurdler Anna Cockrell, the defending NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles and co-founder of the UBSAA in a public statement. “By making this commitment, USC is recognizing the importance of our rights and our civic duty as voters.”

The USC UBSAA was formed in the wake of social justice protests around the nation after the killing of George Floyd. The group strives to” use its position of influence to improve circumstances for the Black community within USC and beyond,” the group said in a statement to the USC athletic administration. The organization requested that Bohn excuse USC athletes of any athletic activities on the day of the election.

UCLA women’s basketball associate head coach Shannon Perry-Lebeauf holds up her mail-in ballot. Photo credit: UCLA Athletics

To further accommodate their student-athletes and other residents of Los Angeles County, the university opened up the Galen Center as a vote center. 

“I am proud that this came about because of the efforts of our USC Athletic Black Lives Matter Action Team and our student-athletes,” Bohn said in a statement from USC. They recognize that the Constitutional right to vote is foundational for our democracy and they steadfastly believe in using their voices and actions to help ensure our country’s future.”

USC had 20 of 21 varsity sports teams at 100 percent in terms of student-athlete voter registration.

UCLA also made their own pledge to get all their eligible athletes ready for the election.UCLA with new AD Martin Jarmond at the helm, also introduced the Voting Matters Initiative to promote voter education and registration. They were able to successfully.

“The Bruin community knows that champions are made here, and part of being a champion is you’re not just a champion on the field or on the court, it’s everywhere you are,” said Chase Griffin, a member of the UCLA football team. “It’s just another part of the process, and it’s a great indicator of our dedication to our work.”

Lauryn Miller, a senior basketball player on the UCLA women's basketball team, executes her civic duty by participating in the voting and election process. Photo credit: UCLA Athletics
Lauryn Miller, a senior basketball player on the UCLA women’s basketball team, executes her civic duty by participating in the voting and election process. Photo credit: UCLA Athletics

“Voting is super important to me, especially as a Black woman,” said UCLA women basketball standout Lauryn Miller. “Understanding who came before me, the history behind fighting for the right for Black people and Black women to vote makes it that much more my responsibility to go out and do it.”

The Bruins’ 17 teams secured a 100 percent registration from their student-athletes. This includes the school’s baseball, women’s basketball, beach volleyball, men’s cross country, women’s cross country, men’s golf, women’s golf, gymnastics, rowing, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, softball, swimming & diving, women’s tennis, men’s volleyball, women’s volleyball, and women’s water polo squads.

Football and men’s water polo are the two additional teams with at least 90% registration from its student-athletes.

“It’s our civic duty to vote and voice our opinions in this world,” said UCLA volleyball star Savvy Simo. “I think there are a lot of things that are upside down right now, and voting can change a lot of things for the better. I think that every opinion matters, every voice matters, every vote counts, so everyone should get out there and vote because it’s our civic duty to do that.”

UCLA’s student-athletes’ civic participation doesn’t stop at the polls. The UCLA Athletics department recently announced the forming of a student-athlete social justice organization. The UCLA Black Student-Athlete Alliance is expected to be an advocate for social justice and will lead anti-racism efforts.

UCLA basketball star Natalie Chou is proud to be part of the voting process. Photo credit: UCLA Athletics

“I am so excited that the BSAA was able to join our fellow student-athletes in selecting and designing the patch,” said UCLA BSAA co-founder and women’s basketball player Michaela Onyenwere. “As an organization and a university, we stand for equality, justice and respect, and this patch fully embodies that. We can’t wait to be able to sport it!”

Like most schools, student-athletes who are eligible for registering and voting have an obligation to the nation to vote. LMU Athletics Director Ashley Armstrong  is a firm believer in this and is one of the reasons why she addressed everyone to “educate yourself on important issues and candidates.”

“As Americans, we have an important duty: to exercise our right to vote,” Armstrong said. 

“This is an opportunity to affect seismic change in our communities, our states, and our nation. Although we have this privilege, many young Americans fail to actively participate in our democratic system,” Armstrong continued. “As LMU student-athletes, we pledge to use our platform to communicate with our peers that our actions can create necessary change. The future is what we make out of it, and voting is one way to ensure that elected officials have their constituents’ best interests in mind. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues and who we think is the best candidate.”

Long Beach State put some of its programs to the test, literally, not to just register, but also to understand how the election process worked.

“Our student-athletes have become more active with wanting to make change,” LBSU Athletic Director Andy Fee said with The562.org. “They’ve talked about it with their coaches and with the administration and we want to support them. We want them to use their voice however they wish, and that goes for coaches and staff as well. Sometimes you take things for granted, you take our country for granted and the freedoms and rights we have. They’ve talked about wanting to be more active and we’ve said whatever we can do to help, we’ll be part of that.”

USC Trojans football standout Jalen McKenzie shows off his voting enthusiasm. Photo credit: USC Athletics

The push for increased voter participation was inspired by the women’s basketball program. After meeting with his players over the summer, LBSU head coach Jeff Cammon and his staff put together a challenge for their players. The team was split up into groups and were asked to look up different aspects of voting and representation.

Cammon was proud of the work the women did and thought “they did an incredible job’” by being engaged and taking the process seriously. 

Just up the 405 freeway in Carson, CSUDH had their student-athletes register to vote with their own activities by challenging each sport program to get everyone to register. Through social media, the men’s basketball team challenged the volleyball team, who then challenged the dance team and it continued on from there until all groups were put on notice. 

Alongside getting Toro athletes to vote, the CSUDH athletics department announced the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to advance equality. This committee is expected to empower students, coaches and staff to promote and foster awareness towards issues of equality and diversity, not just for the athletics department, but also for the campus community.

The committee is made up of the chair and CSUDH women’s basketball assistant coach Jaleesa Ross, volleyball head coach Jennifer Adeva, women’s basketball head coach  John Bonner, student academic success coordinator Kisha Calbert, dance coach Cilecia Foster, Kevin Neal (Corporate Partnerships), budget officer Sara Perry, and cheer coach Cameron Thurman.

“We know CSUDH is a driving force when it comes to diversity as a university, and want to make sure we are leading the way for our department as well,” Ross said on behalf of the committee.

Editor’s note: Feature image is of USC women’s basketball student-athlete Endyia Rogers posing with her ballot

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