VOICES: Election season reaches the sports world

Categories:  Opinions    Sports
Sunday, October 25th, 2020 at 3:03 PM

A shockwave was sent across the sports world in late August. We all waited to see if it was really happening or not. Various media outlets tried their best to cover the breaking-in-real-time story as best they could. And then finally, it became official. 

The Milwaukee Bucks would boycott their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic.  

The boycott followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a young African American man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was another in a string of police shootings that happened over the summer, and took place almost exactly three months after the murder of George Floyd sparked protests across the country.  

We had seen athletes speak out on social media. We had seen athletes speak out at protests. We had seen athletes take a knee in protest. But we had never seen athletes flat-out refuse to play in protest.  

This was only the beginning. The boycott would stretch far and wide across the sports world. Major League Baseball would cancel games scheduled for the next two days; the majority of NFL teams would cancel their mini-camps that were in progress; the NHL would cancel the playoff games it was holding.  

We knew why the athletes were protesting; what we didn’t know was if and when the boycott might end. There was a heated meeting between all of the NBA teams in the Orlando playoff bubble. Some players thought they should boycott the rest of the season. Others thought they should continue playing to keep a national platform. An agreement was reached by the owners and the player’s union, highlighted by the announcement that many of the team’s arenas would be turning into polling places for the Nov. 3 election. The agreement also included the league forming a social justice coalition to educate people on social issues facing many citizens.

The rest of the sports world once again followed suit. The NFL launched the “NFL Votes” initiative to promote people participating in our democracy. This was kicked off by a wave of commercials to be seen during all games. Pete Carroll, Super Bowl winning coach of the Seattle Seahawks, asks the audience, “What if I only coached to win 60% of games?,” to highlight that only 60% of Americans vote in elections. After the coach, a group of A-list NFLers joined in.  

On top of the commercial campaign, the NFL has also dedicated 12 of the stadiums to be converted into polling places. Venues of this size, especially being outdoors, should in theory provide a socially distant in-person voting experience. Several baseball, soccer and hockey arenas are also being dedicated to become polling places. 

Sports are, at times, seen as a distraction from what is happening in the world. And sports absolutely can be a great way to take your mind off of the world, especially in a year as crazy as 2020. However, there seems to be a fraction of this country that thinks of athletes as only bags of bones here for their entertainment.  

Famously, during a 2018 monologue on her show, Fox News host Laura Ingraham told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble.” This came after James and Kevin Durant talked politics and how athletes viewed the presidency of Donald Trump during an interview with ESPN. “I don’t want political advice from someone who gets paid to bounce a ball,” Ingraham would continue. Unfortunately, this seems to be an attitude that has resonated with some people in this country.

However, athletes have a long history of being leading voices in the U.S. on controversial issues.  

One of the biggest parts of Muhammed Ali’s legacy was that he gave up years of his prime to serve a prison sentence for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War. At the height of his career, Jim Brown led voting registrations drives in the heavily segregated south. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar worked with the Harlem Youth Action Project, and even interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the most famous photographs in history came from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised a fist during the playing of the national anthem.  

Athletes leading the way is nothing new. But in a year where nothing has been as usual, maybe the new voting initiatives led by athletes is a welcomed norm. Personally, I think we should be applauding any person who is advocating getting more people to the polls. Because that is how democracy works; and democracy only works when everyone participates. We get a choice, and we get to make our voice heard. This election season, the sports world is making their voices heard loud and clear.

Sam Bohen is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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