Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

What if Players Showed up at Voter Registration Centers, and at the Polls on Election Day, to Help Boost Turnout?

Long lines to vote in Atlanta have been an increasing problem. What if voters had an NBA player to greet them and thank them for coming out and enduring the wait?
Long lines to vote in Atlanta have been an increasing problem. What if voters had an NBA player to greet them and thank them for coming out and enduring the wait?
Photo: Getty

After an historic few days of player protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisc., by a white officer, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association announced a three-step plan in response to the concerns of players in their fight against racial inequality.

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That the NBA responded to the protest of the players is great progress, and the reforms called for are worthy. However, the job still isn’t done.

In the proposal, drafted by Commissioner Adam Silver and Executive Director of the Players’ association Michele Roberts, the league announced it will make team-owned and controlled arenas available as polling sites for November’s election; create a social justice coalition comprised of players, coaches, and governors; and include advertising spots in every playoff game dedicated to increasing civic engagement in voting.

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A number of teams had already committed their arenas to the cause – heeding the call of LeBron James’ “More Than A Vote” and other voting rights initiatives earlier this year – 11 are now announced, but it has yet to be determined how many total arenas will join the movement.

The announced plan is certainly a win for the players and voters, as our country faces numerous voting barriers like appropriate social distancing guidelines, adequate poll workers, and functional voting machines. But the job isn’t done, and if players want more voters to make their voices heard in November there is more they can do to facilitate higher turnout at the polls.

LeBron James started More Than a Vote earlier this year to increase turnout and voter awareness.
LeBron James started More Than a Vote earlier this year to increase turnout and voter awareness.
Photo: Getty
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What if NBA players took advantage of their marquee names to help get people to vote by setting up meet-and-greets in their cities and persuading people to get registered by allowing them to get a socially distanced photo opp?

Or they could volunteer as poll workers in states where it’s not too late to become one, as the elderly – the people who traditionally dedicate their time to making sure our votes are counted – are at great risk of COVID-19. Perhaps players could work the lines, should there be any, outside the arenas, greeting would-be voters and encouraging them to stick it out in what will sadly be some long waits at many sites. Many of these younger players could step in and bring added excitement and enticement for younger people to head to the polls, too.

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There are millions of people that are not registered to vote in this country, many of those people are minorities and simply haven’t taken the opportunity to get registered. Think about the impact LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, or Damian Lillard could have in getting people registered to vote if they simply gave people the chance to meet an NBA superstar.

Voting equipment in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, displayed on a media tour in July.
Voting equipment in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, displayed on a media tour in July.
Photo: AP
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The arenas are a positive step. However they won’t change the voting machines suddenly malfunctioning, lack of voting machines, or voting machines being locked in a storage room. Voter suppression will take place in this election because it’s America, but players can provide that extra motivation for people to cast their vote.

Places like Cleveland, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Detroit, some in swing states, some rife with election woes in previous elections, would be great venues for players to come out and hold events to persuade people to vote. Voter suppression tactics have certainly hindered Black turnout in the past and if an NBA star can do his part to combat that it would be noteworthy.

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Yet, the NBA has its own voter registration issues that it needs to handle as well. It was reported by Marc Spears of The Undefeated that only around 20 percent of the league’s players are registered to vote. That is inexcusable for players who have the amount of access that they do. It must change immediately by players taking the initiative to get themselves registered and talking to people who can help them become registered. If Chris Paul can get every single one of his teammates to register, imagine what a whole league of players could accomplish.

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Nevertheless, the impact that these players could have on the voting process could be huge. For many around the nation, this is the most important presidential election in recent memory, after a rise in White-nationalism fueled violence and over 180,000 deaths from a virus that was egregiously mishandled by President Donald Trump. As any reasonable individual can imagine, people want change.

Yet, the biggest impact of helping people register to vote could be on the local and state level. While the outcome of the presidential election is determined by the electoral college, placing heavier emphasis on swing states to determine the next commander in chief, many local and state officials are elected strictly from the popular vote, which means a few votes can directly make a difference as to who becomes governor, state representative or congressperson.

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The importance of increasing voter registration cannot be understated and the players’ efforts to allow people to make their voices heard is admirable. But there is more to be done.

Any strategy that can get more people to the polls, is a strategy that should be considered seriously. The players can lead the way in electing us to a better society.

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It’s time for them to take the next step.

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