Americans sometimes watch sports as a welcome distraction from the chaos of the outside world. But, with a presidential election on the horizon, the line between entertainment and politics has become rightfully blurred, reflecting a positive change in the public consciousness .
In the last seven months, following decades of leagues shying away from social justice statements, teams and leagues have declared their support for social justice initiatives and have paved the way for future political messaging.
Continuing its unprecedented support of social justice movements, the sports world has turned its emphasis to an overtly political subject — the right to vote.
With Election Day less than two weeks away in the United States, professional and collegiate athletes across the country have made it a priority to inspire their fellow Americans to exercise their rights.
Many collegiate teams have used social media to share their voting initiatives with a national audience. Nearly all Georgetown University sports teams have organized get-out-the-vote campaigns, registering their entire rosters and coaching staffs to vote and urging fellow students and fans to do the same. Even the NCAA announced that all universities must give their student-athletes the day off from practice on Election Day, giving student-athletes ample time to vote.
Similarly, the NFL has flooded television airwaves with commercials about its NFL Votes campaign, which features NFL stars, such as Russell Wilson and DeAndre Hopkins, urging fans to make a plan to vote.
Certain athletes have taken a personal interest in voting initiatives. Los Angeles Lakers superstar and 2020 NBA Finals MVP LeBron James, for example, founded the organization More Than a Vote in June 2020 to combat Black voter suppression, an issue that has affected millions of Black Americans, including Black athletes, from the country’s founding to present day.
Like NFL Votes and More than a Vote, many voting websites promoted by collegiate and professional teams serve as reliable one-stop shops to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and find polling locations.
By firmly and universally endorsing political participation for the first time, the sports world has both galvanized its own athletes to vote — NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are voting for the first time this year, for example — and inspired all Americans to exercise their most fundamental civil liberty.
Before May 2020, some fans believed the role of athletes was to compete and entertain. Seldom would players, whose fame and multimillion-dollar contracts were thought to insulate them from the troubles of society at large, express their opinions in regard to nonathletic issues, let alone ask people to vote.
The difference between athletes’ actions in the pre- and post-May world is not that athletes have just begun to care about voting, but rather that more of the people watching — and paying — these athletes have started to care about what they have to say.
In the turbulence of 2020, sports can seem trivial and frivolous compared to understandably more important concerns like COVID-19, police brutality, and a bitter election race, among others. Yet by directly asking fans to vote, athletes and sports organizations have torn down the air of superficiality surrounding sports and demonstrated a fascinating evolution. No longer just a source of entertainment, watching sports has become a thought-provoking forum that inspires fans to choose the leaders they believe will enact positive change.
Historically reluctant to grapple with political issues, the sports world is finally bringing awareness to societal problems with its ongoing social justice movements, and it is now providing a simple, yet imperative, actionable step to help solve those problems, and I am too — go out and vote.