By Madison Haley, Brooke Forde and Zach Sehgal
There’s a new date to circle on the college sports calendar: Nov. 3, 2020, time for #AllVoteNoPlay.
The NCAA has designated next Tuesday as a mandatory day off from team practices or competitions so that student-athletes like Malachi Rice, a Georgia Tech point guard, and Katie Meyer, a Stanford goalkeeper, can join their teammates and coaches in focusing on democracy.
“Voting is important,” Meyer said, “because what are we without it?”
It all began back in June, when Rice called an emergency meeting of his basketball team after he watched the video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. During an emotional discussion on Zoom, he suggested a direct course of action: that they all become voters. “The immediate thought was to join the marches. But wouldn’t that be hypocritical if we weren’t all registered and committed to voting?” Rice told The Undefeated.
Eric Reveno, a Stanford graduate and associate head coach of men’s basketball at Georgia Tech, took the idea and ran with it, rallying other coaches, athletic department administrators and student-athlete groups from across the country. When Reveno announced the #AllVoteNoPlay initiative via Twitter, he set off a chain reaction. Within a day, Georgia Tech announced that fall sport athletes would have Nov. 3 off from athletic activities. Shortly after, UCLA and Wisconsin made similar announcements.
Momentum spread quickly, and a wave of athletic departments began to mobilize. On Sept. 16, the NCAA Division I Council designated Election Day as a mandatory off-day from all athletically related activities. The Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee proposed the legislation. “The student-athlete voice continues to grow louder and louder every year,” committee chair Ethan Good said in a statement.
Similar support emerged at the conference level. In July, the Pac 12 conference invited the presidents and chancellors of all of its schools to sign a “Commitment to Full Student Voter Participation.” Coaches from the 12 schools also signed a pledge to support their athletes in “navigating the electoral process.”
In a news release, Charmin Smith, head coach of the women’s basketball team at UC Berkeley, talked about the importance of helping athletes exercise their right to vote. “I believe the youth will be responsible for the majority of the change we seek surrounding social justice and anti-racism,” she said. “Their voices must be heard, and actively participating in the electoral process is a solid next step.” Like Reveno, Smith played NCAA Division 1 basketball at Stanford while earning a bachelor’s degree. She has a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford as well.
Led by Reveno, voter registration became a priority. Stanford, UCLA, USC and other athletic departments started campaigns to encourage citizens to exercise their civic duty. Many college teams announced that 100% of their players were registered.
Aria Fischer, a senior on the Stanford women’s water polo team, recently launched a voter registration video challenge with the help of her head coach, John Tanner. The goal was “to get other Stanford Athletics teams to register to vote and to generate excitement around the voting process,” Fischer said. “My team is extremely excited to vote this year, which was not the case in the previous election.”
Sade Adamolekun, a sophomore from Texas who plays forward on the USC women’s soccer team, expressed a similar sentiment: “I was not able to vote in 2016, so I was not as focused on what was going on in the news. I was not paying attention to the proposed policies or the candidates’ stances on key issues. I didn’t do my research because I did not feel like I had a say.”
This year, Adamolekun is getting involved involved and doing her research. But, in her words, “It shouldn’t be this way. People need to remain engaged and informed on social issues.”
Meyer is one of many student-athletes who emphasize the importance of voting through social media. Meyer regularly uses her Instagram account to share voting resources and information about political issues.
“I felt that growing up, my vote didn’t matter – it was just one vote,” said Meyer, a Californian from Newbury Park, in Ventura County “Many of the people in my town felt the same way. I’ve since realized that it’s not true – voter suppression is evident. So, my main priority is convincing people that their vote actually does matter because change takes everyone in the country. You have to change public opinion to make change up top.”
Through social media, student-athletes like Fischer and Meyer also point out the importance of local and state elections. “Local elections can have a big impact on public policy, and that is something that I did not recognize in 2016,” Fischer said. “I want people to understand that they should be voting in these elections, not just the presidential election.”
Key social issues have empowered athletes to get more involved. “This year racial injustice and climate change were at the forefront of American media, which really opened my eyes to a lot of the issues that I had not previously encountered or thought about on a regular basis,” Meyer said. “I think the timing was crucial. It motivated me to get involved – to try to make real change.”
Along with voting, a variety of tools can be used to create tangible change — one can donate, protest, educate, advocate and lobby. Professional athletes have leveraged a variety of these tools this year, empowering student-athletes to follow suit.
“We are regularly told to just stick to athletics and that our brains are not what is important — it’s our bodies and what we do on the field,” Fischer said. “But when we see prominent athletes use their platforms to engage in activism, it breaks the stigma that athletes are not supposed to be political or aren’t supposed to be vocal on different issues that affect them and communities.”
Roughly 50 professional teams across the major American sports have turned their stadiums into voting places for the Nov. 3 election, including the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
The nation’s eyes will be glued to key swing states such as Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona and Colorado. Teams in these states — the Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Brewers and Denver Nuggets — have committed their arenas and facilities to serve as voting locations.
In addition, teams have used their huge social media following to promote voter turnout. The Lakers posted a video of LeBron James telling their 15.3 million followers that the Staples Center is being used as a voting place. James then shared it with his nearly 74 million followers.