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- Ramona Shelburne
Senior Editor ESPN
- Senior editor ESPN.com
- Worked for the Los Angeles Daily News for seven years.
- Malika Andrews
ESPN Staff Writer
- internal editor
- Member of ESPN since 2018.
- Appears regularly on Chicago ESPN 1000
Editor’s note : It is part of a six-part series that shows how professional sports owners in the United States contribute to political campaigns, why they spend millions in space, and what this financial strength means when athletes remain active in their own sports campaigns.
On the first day of this month’s early voting, a familiar face appeared under the mask in Atlanta’s State Park Arena. All voters who passed Lloyd Pierce, the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, didn’t recognize him at first.
I’ve got a lot of them. I thought you were the one who was leaving, Pierce was joking.
Apart from the mask covering his beard and moustache, the context was completely irrelevant. Every two years, the Hawks open a new NBA season as election day approaches. The arena will be filled with fans and vendors, not voters – or, as in the case of Pierce, with volunteers who will help people guide this very unusual voting experience.
On the first day, a man brought me his son, who was the first voter, Pierce said. It was a good moment to be there, to see that the right to vote is passed on from generation to generation.
And you think this is the first time anyone’s ever voted in an NBA arena? What a wonderful experience.
But Pierce wasn’t just there for the experiment.
Five months earlier Pierce had participated in the NAACP march and promised to do more as his community and country tried to tackle the social justice challenges arising from the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in May while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Next to Pierce several of his actors were on stage, including John Collins, Kevin Herter, Damien Jones and Vince Carter. And they weren’t alone. Dozens of professional athletes across the country have joined the events this spring, calling for change. When their sport resumed this summer, the WNBA and the NBA dedicated their seasons to promoting social justice.
But the call for change and the way it is implemented is very different, and this moment – amidst widespread social unrest, the economic uncertainty caused by the COWID pandemic, and the racially intense electoral cycle – has created a whole new challenge: How can athletes use the power of their collective voice in political action? And how can their competitions and franchises help?
What else can we do but tweet or make a public service announcement? Pierce said. The more we look at it, the more we realize that there are things we can all do, and the mood was the first step.
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In Los Angeles, Lakers forward Lebron James asked the same questions to his long-standing advisors, Maverick Carter and Adam Mendelssohn.
Throughout his career, James has often ventured into politics. In 2016 he even ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, in his home state of Ohio.
But this time I felt limited in my support for a candidate. This moment required a systemic change.
We really wanted to unite a coalition of athletes and artists and create an organization that fights voter oppression, especially in our black and brown communities, Carter said. We wanted to come up with initiatives that would really make a difference, not just put on social networks, because if you look at the history of the oppression of black voters, that’s the reality.
Carter and Mendelssohn have worked with James long enough to realize that if he wants to put his name and voice on the case, he needs a well-developed strategy. In January, they contacted Addis Ababa Demissi, Senator Corey Booker’s former campaign manager for the presidential campaign, to see if he would be interested in running an organization they would call more than one voice.
Originally, the organisation was seen as an extension of another James company – more than an athlete – and the scope of the new project was limited to the production of content during and in the run-up to the 2020 elections.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Lebron James, the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA have dedicated the 2019-20 season to the relaunch of the Social Justice Initiative. Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images
But things changed after George Floyd died. James wanted to do something on a larger scale. He wanted to create a political organization that would not only use his platform of 122 million social media enthusiasts, but also some of the biggest celebrities and biggest names in the sport: Patrick Mahomes, Alvin Camara, Jack Flaherty, Allison Felix, Ben Simmons, Trey Young, Moe Bamba, Kevin Hart, Tony Braxton, Sloan Stevens and Dramond Green.
The organisation will focus on combating the repression of voters, particularly in the black community. According to Pew Research, the turnout of black voters in the 2016 presidential election has dropped for the first time in 20 years.
The group then published a letter, which was read in part: We’re not politicians or political leaders, and we’re not trying to be. Our organization is not here to tell you who to vote for. As individuals we can talk about specific policies or candidates, but as a team we have come together this year to focus on one topic: the systemic impact of racism on our electoral rights.
Mendelssohn was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy chief of staff before he started working with James. Normally he prefers to stay behind the scenes, but it has become very important for him to help athletes use their power in political activities.
Athletes are just as qualified for politics and activities and often more qualified than the executive director, Mendelssohn said. Why doesn’t a business leader with life experience ask about our country’s problems, and a cultural leader who has experienced unbelievable adversity doesn’t?
Mendelson, Carter and Demissy hired Michael Tyler, who previously headed Booker’s communications department.
They are familiar and familiar voices in their communities, said Tyler of the athletes he will be working with. So how do we provide them with the resources so they can go and become competent ambassadors?
Early June James organized a zoom call with dozens of athletes and artists. Among those who called for greater political participation there was a willingness and a desire, but also a sense of insecurity because they were not so politically active and were less aware of the most important issues.
Sport has always had the opportunity to be a bridge in life in many ways, and that is exactly what we as a team are trying to achieve. We’re trying to be a bridge, we’re trying to be in the middle.
For example, Voinov’s striker Draimond Green voluntarily declared that he had not voted since 2008. How could he, he explained, ask others to vote if he doesn’t always do so?
He was a little shy at first, Demissy said. And I remember Michael and I used to write: That’s exactly the story we’re trying to tell.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was also present at this first call when she joined the impartial advisory group. Many of the players who took part in the game were reluctant to tell these stories, Benson said. And I said: Here’s the missing piece. That’s what the voters need to hear. This is something no one else can share, and if you’re willing to do that, you can be the agents of change this year. They could be the catalyst that would make this a historic victory for democracy. And the fact that they have all increased unconditionally and clearly is better for all of us.
As in MILVOCKING BOOKS on the 26th. In August, after the Kenosh police Jacob Blake, Wisconsin, who did not want to go to court, Bucks general manager John Horst told the players that the front office would support their decision, but that there was no return to the hotel without action. After consultation with the heads of state, the group decided to support the police reform project proposed by Wisconsin Gow.
But on Monday, after Bax had decided not to play, the Senate and the Assembly of the State of Wisconsin silently entered and exited a so-called special session on police violence in less than 30 seconds. The next day, Bax forward Kyle Corver said the short meeting, which the senators did not attend, was disappointing.
In many ways, sport has always been a bridge in life, according to Corver. And that’s what we’re trying to do as a team. We’re trying to be a bridge, we’re trying to be in the middle.
Bax’s protest may have been a high price in professional sport, but it ultimately proved ineffective in bringing about direct political change in Wisconsin. However, it has been successful in strengthening the collective voice of athletes calling for systemic change. After other NBA and WNBA members joined the Milwaukee event, James and National Basketball Association President Chris Paul spoke with former President Barack Obama, who advised them to use the power of the moment to wrestle important commitments from the league and the teams.
In response, the NBA announced the formation of a coalition for social justice, turned the league’s stadiums into polling stations and encouraged civic participation in national and local elections through advertising in the games.
Fault! The file name is not specified. The Milwaukee Bucks’ protest against a play-off game was a strong message to the NBA and other American sports federations. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE on Getty Images.
Wisconsin’s experience with Wisconsin State Legislature has highlighted the difficulty of turning passion and protest into political action and the benefits of arming coaches and athletes with information about the issues they care about before they come to the table.
It is good, for example, to be able to talk about the repression of black voters and how that repression can be combated by opening stadiums and concert halls as polling stations. Or how much more than the vote attracted some 40,000 new volunteers as research assistants.
But it is much stronger to attract guest speakers, such as former Georgian governor candidate Stacy Abrams, who campaigned for the right to vote.
And it’s even better when surrogates like Pierce study election history to the point where they can quote directly from an important 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County vs. Holder, who revoked significant parts of the law on voting rights and allowed states to change their electoral procedures without external supervision or prior training by the Department of Justice.
I won’t talk about something I don’t know much about, Pierce. I won’t pretend to know every part of the Constitution or every law. But I am familiar with the Holder case because it is a very important change in the law on voting rights.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that in 2013 there is no longer a need to reduce racial discrimination in voting and prior approval.
Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in another advisory article that throwing a preclear at work and continuing to work to prevent discriminatory change is the same as throwing an umbrella in the rain because you don’t get wet.
Pierce referred to Ginsburg’s analogy with rain and said: We’re just trying to get back to what was, in fact, our right, which was taken away from us. We can’t even focus on real elections, politics and stuff like that. We’re just trying to get people to vote to protect our rights.
That level of commitment is more valuable than anything an experienced politician could throw at a voter, thanks to Pierce and the other coaches and athletes in their community, Tyler said.
We actually made a whole program for him, Tyler said. Complete with sources, articles, videos, things like that… You can really go to school with this job.
On Tuesday night in October, Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia guard Tobias Harris and Portland guard C.J. McCollum Pathway entered an empty airplane hangar, sat in plush leather seats, put on masks and asked their guest, Senator Kamal Harris, a series of questions about police brutality, educational reform and the importance of the vote. The interview was part of McCollum’s new show and was posted on the Biden/Harris campaign channel on YouTube.
Nowhere in the video did any of the players say directly whether they would vote for Biden and Harris. But in a later interview, McCollum said he had no problem saying who he voted for.
Everyone who knows me knows I won’t vote for Donald Trump, McCollum said. I will vote 100% for Senator Harris and Joe Biden.
Some of the things I believe in and fight for are things I will speak for myself. And I don’t care about the consequences. I don’t care if people don’t like me. That’s my opinion. I believe that. … I think if some people can’t respect my thoughts and opinions about equality, my thoughts and opinions about dealing with people, I don’t want to treat them anyway.
Why doesn’t a business leader with life experience ask about our country’s problems, and a cultural leader who has experienced unbelievable adversity doesn’t?
Others, like Pierce, prefer to focus on voting rights rather than consent.
In terms of perception, supporting a person means everything they say and stand for in terms of policy, Pierce said. I can help the city of Atlanta before the election, and I can help the city of Atlanta after the election. And that’s really my point.
On the contrary, WNBA players are more inclined to have strong political views or to support certain candidates. This season, players from all 12 WNBA teams wore T-shirts to the national television games in support of Georgia’s Democratic Party candidate in the Senate elections, Reverend Rafael Varnok. Warnock runs against incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Lowffler, co-owner of Atlanta Dream, who has publicly criticized the WNBA for devoting his season to social justice, including the Black Matter movement.
WNBA players’ support helped Warnock raise funds and codify support for the Democrats in the open primaries, where 21 candidates fight for Loffler’s seat.
Of the effect we had on Reverend Warnock’s campaign to get people to vote, I believe 100% that we helped bring about change, said Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, who came up with the idea that WNBA players support Warnock.
Voting must be cool! Children need to see how their role models talk about voting and exercising their right to vote, regardless of their political views. The only thing that the WNBA might be different from the NBA is that our fans have always known what we’re talking about. A large percentage of our fans probably agree with us politically. So I’m sure we’ve motivated them to come forward and vote. When you can, help make changes.
Josh Kalla, an associate professor at Yale University specializing in political persuasion and decision making, said that mobilisation can be just as important as support for specific candidates or issues.
It’s not about convincing anyone to care about racial equality and therefore vote for a democratic candidate, Kala said. It’s more like Hey, you care about racial equality, but you don’t vote. Voting is a good way to act in accordance with your values of racial equality.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce helped voters in the State Farm Arena, Georgia’s largest early voting venue, to vote on the first day of the early voting period. Jessica McGowan/Getty Pictures
For a movement that began with athletes and coaches who want to do more than just tweet or talk about the importance of voting, the power of a LeBron James tweet should not be underestimated.
In May, Mr. Benson’s office in Detroit began hearing of people who had received a robotic call from a woman posing as Tamika Taylor of Project 1599, suggesting that police would use absent voice information to track voters, that credit card companies would then use their personal information to collect outstanding debts, and that the DPC would use it to introduce mandatory vaccinations.
You don’t have to fine a man if he gives you personal information, like the call said. Stay safe at home and watch out for voting in your absence.
The 27th. August Benson tweeted that Robocall approached voters in Detroit using racist stereotypes and misinformation to prevent absent voters from voting, calling it a blatant, unjustified and shameless attempt to lie to citizens about their right to vote.
James tweeted Benson, and it was called More Than Vote: They’ll do everything they can to stop us from voting, but we won’t buy the okey-dokey. If you are in Detroit, offer your resistance and report such disturbances to [email protected]
Soon, Benson’s office was flooded with phone calls and e-mails from people affected by a fake robot call. Eventually she discovered there were 85,000 phone calls made across the country.
People knew it was a lie. They knew she was the target. And we were able to deliver quickly, she said. So there was no question of this actually happening? Is that just an exaggeration? Because we are supported by our most powerful athletes and we tell people what to do when they get a call.
The Attorney General of Michigan launched an interstate investigation that led to the indictment of two Republican associates, Jack Berkman and Jacob Wool, for serious electoral and conspiracy crimes that could result in 24 years in prison if convicted.
A grand jury sued Burkman and Will in Cleveland on Tuesday on eight counts of telecommunications fraud and seven counts of bribery in connection with 8,000 calls made to residents of Cleveland and East Leveland.
For an experienced activist like John Whartel, this kind of influence is a game player. In mid-September she participated in the launch of the ‘More Than That Campaign’ in cooperation with the Fonds voor Rechtsbescherming. When James posted it on Twitter, the effect was exponential. In the six weeks since the start of the campaign, more than 40,000 people have registered as participants in the survey.
According to LeBron, registering for the interview is most efficient. I immediately saw my friends tweeting, retweeting, sharing on Facebook. I saw one of my school friends tweeting that he was going to apply to North Carolina.
Vartel worked in three rounds of the presidential election campaign, including this one. In general, the work consists of organizing volunteers, summoning voters, going to the field, knocking on doors, registering voters, helping to plan the election.
It’s not a glamorous job. It’s a tough job.
Yet Lloyd Pierce stood outside the State Farm Arena, looking over his mask and waving at the voters as they entered the building where he was coaching the NBA games.
More than 30,000 people have already voted in the Hawks arena. Officials expect this number to double by election day. This year another 20 NBA arenas, concert halls and MLB baseball diamonds will serve as polling stations.
Pierce said he’d be gone the third time. November once or twice as a volunteer.
You know, he said I went home on my first day and it was kind of an emotional experience. Just to see the power. This voting right shall be exercised.
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