It’s hard to win a game when the rules were made for you to lose.
This is a reality that many athletes are facing as they take on the challenge of helping to bring equality to a nation that has never practiced the principles it preaches.
From Colin Kaepernick’s foundation that aims at fighting oppression through education and social activism to LeBron James’ More Than a Vote initiative that fights voter suppression, athletes across the world are entering the fight for change and trying to instill a comeback for decency in this country.
However, the deficit that these athletes face is more daunting than many of us could ever imagine.
Take James for example, his More Than a Vote initiative has already done great work since its inception this summer. The organization has secured football stadiums and basketball arenas to serve as voting precincts for the general election in November and they have donated $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to try to eliminate fees that stop ex-inmates from being able to vote.
Yet, on Friday a federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled that ex-felons in Florida who still owe fees and fines will not be allowed to register to vote. The ruling will potentially thwart hundreds of thousands of people in Florida, many of whom are people of color, from exercising their right to vote in the swing state this November.
In 2018, Floridians voted to restore voting rights to ex-felons, but an amendment was added after the vote that made paying fines a requirement before voting rights were restored. Game re-rigged.
The court agreed with Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that the debts are a part of their “terms of sentence.” The court announced this ruling with only a few weeks left until the voter registration deadline in the state of Florida. (October 5) Thus, significantly limiting the number of people who will be able to pay the money for these fines.
A 2019 report from the Sun Sentinel, said that South Floridian ex-felons alone owe over a billion dollars in fines. Broward County itself accounts for $534 million in felony fines.
Many believe that the passing of this law is a flagrant voter suppression tactic aimed to harm communities of color and strip them of their opportunity to exercise their right.
The ACLU of Florida and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have said that this rule implemented by Florida legislators was unconstitutional and essentially created a poll tax to prevent individuals with felony records and limited means (skewing the impact adversely against those in poverty) from voting. A federal judge said that Florida’s pay-to-vote rule “falls short in substantial respects.”
While More Than A Vote’s $100,000 contribution was admirable, it will barely put a dent in the likely multi-billion dollar structure that has been created from this one law. A law that was specifically designed to keep minorities from voting because they are incarcerated at a higher rate than white people and given harsher sentences because of systemic racism.
Kaepernick’s organization falls into the same boat, his organization has donated graciously to many other initiatives that advocate for social change. Yet, in Tennessee actual laws were passed that limit protesters’ rights and if they are found guilty they could potentially lose their right to vote.
This doesn’t even include the other slick tactics of voter suppression that are implemented in every election such as lack of poll workers, broken voting machines, and long wait times in minority communities.
It’s a twisted game being played. And many of these athletes are still trying to find out how the rules work.
This game is so deep that many of us can’t even fathom how bad we have been cheated. Athletes grow up playing the games that they love and many find solace in the fact that their ability and work ethic is the driving force behind their success.
However, this game that athletes are starting to partake in now is different, the opposition in this contest are not playing by the same rules. They are creating them as they go.
Don’t get me wrong, we need the continued effort and commitment from our athletes in minority communities because of the resources that they possess to help create change.
But what we can’t lose sight of is how this game is constructed. Everyone must realize that it’s going to take far more than the efforts of a few athletes to level the playing field.
It’s going to take all of us to truly fix a game that was only meant to be won by some.