From Baskets to Ballots

by Grace Grabowski, Sports Contributor & Joyce Lee, Sports Reporter
graphic by Amanda Fu

Usually, you can count on your favorite basketball player to make that buzzer-beating layup — not to cast a ballot. In 2016, only 22% of eligible National Basketball Association (NBA) players voted, according to statistics provided by the players’ union. This year, those same players are pledging to not only vote themselves, but to use their platform to encourage others to do the same.

Three-time NBA champion, three-time NBA All-Star and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green was one of those players who did not vote in 2016. He said, in a June interview with The Undefeated, that he felt like his vote did not matter. But now, he said, he’s been educated on the importance of exercising each citizen’s right to vote.

“If there’s any time that’s ever been serious for us, it’s serious now,” he said. “If we all sit back and say, ‘I’m only one vote, it doesn’t matter,’ then we end up with results like we ended up with the last election, that put our country in the place where it is today.” 

As part of their initiative to increase voting access, 20 NBA arenas and dozens more practice facilities across the country were transformed into polling locations for the Nov. 3 presidential election.

In the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the Washington Mystics partnered with “When We All Vote,” a nonprofit organization co-chaired by Michelle Obama, to register fans. The Mystics challenged eight other WNBA teams to see who could register the most new voters. 

Senior Vice President of Team Services Alycen McAuley said that activism is not new for WNBA. 

“Advocacy has always been in the DNA of the WNBA, both within our teams and our players. While we are competitors on the court, we’re collaborators in our communities — and we are honored to work alongside our fellow teams to help raise awareness around the importance of voting and participating in our democracy,” she said in an August article published on the team’s website. 

In addition to team-wide activism, individual athletes have piloted their own initiatives. WNBA Atlanta Dream player Renee Montgomery opted out of the WNBA season in favor of starting her Remember The 3rd initiative. She planned three workshops and a pep rally to educate people about the voting process and the importance of voting.

Professional athletes have been very vocal in encouraging fans to vote, and some even indicated who they plan on voting for. Steph Curry and Lebron James, two of the most well-known NBA players, both endorsed Joe Biden. Other players, like past All-Stars Demarcus Cousins and Kevin Love turned to Twitter to share their thoughts on presidential debates. Many WNBA players also endorsed Reverend Raphael G. Warnock, who is challenging current Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler. Loeffler co-owns the Atlanta Dream and previously criticized the WNBA for putting so much focus on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Why the heightened civic efforts from athletes this election season? Los Angeles Lakers superstar and 2020 NBA Finals MVP LeBron James said it comes down to empowering children, especially children of color.

“I always talk about how Black kids and Black people in the community don’t believe that their vote matters. We grow up or we don’t think that our vote actually matters for who becomes the president,” James said. “We’ve seen our voices be muted, muted over our whole lives.” 

In July, James and a coalition of Black athletes and artists started the voting rights organization More than a Vote, aimed at combating Black voter suppression to protect Black voters’ rights. 

Encouragement from athletes gives non-registered voters a renewed incentive to vote because of their powerful platforms. Athletes are doing right by our democracy by using their platform to encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote.