Election 2020 & Sports: The NBA and its Players Determined Effort to Impact the Upcoming Election

by Poras Siganporia

As the month of October draws closer to an end, election fever is surging, as millions of Americans anxiously look on in earnest to one of the most pivotal and anticipated elections in modern US history.

 Looking back in review of the past couple months in this country, there has been a laundry list of chaotic events which are clearly hanging over voters’ minds as they consider their votes. From the raging pandemic, to civil rights struggles, to economic turmoil and closures of businesses and schools, to never ending political division, the country is clearly trotting through unprecedented times, to say the least.

Consequently, numerous Americans are motivated to have their votes count on issues they are deeply concerned about. Hence, it is no coincidence that millions of Americans are already rushing to the polls in huge numbers. According to one source, “nearly 60 million Americans have already casted their vote,” as early voting records continue to be shattered in a little less than two weeks to go to Election Day 2020.[1]

One thing is clear. The American people are galvanizing in huge numbers, and they are hell-bent on getting their votes out, in order to have their voices be heard loud and clear this election cycle.

Likewise, major sports leagues in America, such as the National Basketball Association (NBA), have also made it their mission to have their voices heard, too, and are exciting sports fans and players all over the country to mobilize and vote in this year’s crucial election. As of now, 20 teams within the NBA, including the current 2020 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, have already opened or are planning to open up vast amounts of space in their arenas to allow for voting centers, early voting sites, and ballot drop-off locations. One team in particular, the Sacramento Kings, has even led the charge and made it their mission to counter voter suppression tactics, through their oversight of a program called, “Rally the Vote”. A unique non-partisan voting registration initiative, this program, “partners up with other organizations such as “When We All Vote,” “RISE”, and different professional sports teams from the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, and NWSL,” in order to raise awareness about the importance of voting.[2]

Looking back at this year’s NBA Playoffs and Finals, which took place in the leagues “bubble” at the Disney World campus, it was clear that voting was a top priority on the minds of many of the most popular players in the league, too. Basketball superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as Jimmy Butler for the Miami Heat, all donned messages on their warmup shirts and jerseys, encouraging people to vote. Throughout the end of the season it was a typical sight for fans to see these players and several others even donning the message “VOTE” in all caps on their game attire and shirts.

Even basketball enthusiast and former President Barack Obama decided to join in on the NBA’s newfound voter movement. During Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Mr. Obama attended this event through the “virtual audience” and conveyed to millions of viewers across the nation the importance of voting and expressed gratitude to the efforts of so many Americans who are working hard to preserve voter legitimacy. As Mr. Obama expressed in his own words,  I am honestly not the main event tonight, but I wanted to come on and give a shoutout to all the folks who are volunteering as poll workers in this upcoming election.” He further went on to say, “It’s critical that everybody votes in this election––by mail or in person if you can, and it is absolutely vital for our democracy and I appreciate you, and hopefully all of the NBA fans will appreciate you when they see those shorter lines at the polling places.”[3] (3)

Outside of the bright lights and glitz and glamour of the NBA hardwood, several NBA players are enacting their best efforts behind the scenes to use their enormous platform to inspire their communities and encourage more people to vote. Just this past summer, NBA players such as Draymond Green from the Golden State Warriors, and rising star Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks teamed up with  Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James in the launching of  “More Than a Vote,” a voting rights organization centered on the mission of increasing voter turnout in the African-American community and reducing voter suppression. It is clear that the leagues and its players efforts to encourage voting are paying off. According to the NBA Players Association, throughout the league, voter registration for the league’s members are now at 96%, and is a positive sign of progress, as in the previous 2016 election only 22% of the league members casted their votes. Furthermore, after Mr. Obama’s Game 1 shout out, over 10,000 additional people signed up to be poll workers.[4]

To witness the NBA, it’s star players, and other influential figures using their platforms to encourage voters to take action and use the power of their vote to influence our country’s  election process, is a definitive sign of the new shift in sports and politics, as professional athletes and organizations are striving to ensure that their voices are heard, too. As Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive says, “We’ve lit a huge fire and just about every sports team and athlete is getting behind it in some way. Furthermore, Ranadive mentions how, “In our society, sports teams and athletes have a huge voice. It is great that they are using it to spread democracy. There couldn’t be a more noble mission.”[5]

And the voices of these players are going to have to continue to be heard and emphasized, as based on recent statistics. It is clear that there are still millions of Americans who are undecided and are in need of more motivation to cast their votes. According to one statistic, it was reported that, “approximately 100 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election and at least 88 million Americans have not registered this year.”[6] However, this time around through their sustained efforts and active engagement with their communities, many professional athletes are optimistic that they can reach out and motivate individuals to turn out to the polls in large numbers, and have their voices heard, too.

 For those members of the community who are still hesitant in casting the vote, the inspiring words of Sacramento Kings basketball player Harrison Barnes, should resonate deeply. As Mr. Barnes says, “If all we do is protest and don’t follow through to voting, we’re not going to see the change we want to see”.[7]

In the end, these parting words hold great wisdom and truth, as only when an individual realizes the power and potential in their single vote, and then acts on this enormous freedom, can real change and meaningful progress then take place in society. To vote is truly one of the most crucial and powerful freedoms we as Americans hold in this country.

 And this is a freedom that should never be taken for granted.

[1] The Guardian.com; “Nearly 60 million Americans cast early vote as record-shattering turnout expected” https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/25/nearly-60-million-americans-cast-early-vote-trump-biden

[2] Mark, Medina; How NBA Teams and Players are Fighting Voter Suppression as Election Day Nears https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2020/08/28/nba-fighting-voter-suppression/5598256002/

[3] Mira. B : Barack Obama Encourages Everyone to Vote While Attending a Virtual Lakers Game https://thesource.com/2020/10/01/barack-obama-encourages-everyone-to-vote-while-attending-virtual-lakers-game/

[4] Jon Schlosberg & Linsey Davis: NBA Get-out-the vote Effort Results in Unprecedented Voter Registration https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/nba-vote-effort-results-unprecendented-athlete-voter-registration/story?id=73609846

[5] Mark, Medina; How NBA Teams and Players are Fighting Voter Suppression as Election Day Nears https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2020/08/28/nba-fighting-voter-suppression/5598256002/

[6] Mark, Medina; How NBA Teams and Players are Fighting Voter Suppression as Election Day Nears https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2020/08/28/nba-fighting-voter-suppression/5598256002

[7] Mark, Medina; How NBA Teams and Players are Fighting Voter Suppression as Election Day Nears https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2020/08/28/nba-fighting-voter-suppression/5598256002/

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