Many sports fans are dismayed by the growing political awareness and activism of athletes.
Whether it’s NFL players kneeling down before kickoff, or NBA players refusing to play after a police officer shot a man seven times in Wisconsin, athletes have realized they have a forum, and many have decided to use it.
Players, however, can only have a limited impact when they protest racial injustice or a fatal shooting. So a number of NBA players have settled on a way to make a bigger difference. They are actively encouraging more people to vote — after first confronting the realization that most of the players have overlooked this right themselves.
Thankfully, there’s more to it than the simple symbol of wearing a “Vote” T-shirt during pre-game warmups. NBA teams, prodded by players and their union, have held voter registration drives, and many of the franchises have volunteered their stadiums or practice facilities as polling places for the November elections.
The players, in fact, are quite representative of the voting disinterest that permeates most communities in America. Turnouts for big elections are typically in the 50-60% range of registered voters, while lesser elections attract far fewer people to polling places.
The Washington Post quoted a census survey that said only 37 percent of Black men under age 30 voted in the 2016 election. Participation was even lower that year among NBA players — 22 percent.
There are some valid reasons for low NBA voting rates. Most players’ legal residence is not in the city where they work. They are typically on the road during elections. But in the end, it came down to a lack of interest, an unwillingness to take the time to fill out an absentee ballot and return it, and a belief that their vote doesn’t matter.
True enough: One vote by itself almost never matters. But it’s always amazing to see how many people fail to realize that a lot of single votes can add up to a very big number.
With a big assist from the NBA players union, at least 85 percent of pro basketball players are now registered to vote. Eleven of the league’s 30 teams have every member of their roster registered.
Registering is the easy part, of course. Then you have to take the time to be reasonably informed on the issues. And then you have to actually vote.
If the NBA players and other athletes convince more people to do this, good for them. While some will complain the players are trying to help Democrats, there’s nothing stopping Republicans from finding athletes — baseball players or race car drivers — who will encourage their fans to participate, too.
The citizen lack of interest in choosing leaders is a true American malaise. A lot of people have died to protect this cherished American right, and too many people ignore these sacrifices. It would be nice if 2020’s bright spot was the start of a reversal of this trend.