The first time I saw an athlete move beyond words in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death was University of Oklahoma football player Justin Broiles joining a Black Lives Matter rally in Oklahoma City.
Broiles acted. And when he did, he proposed further action. He grabbed a megaphone and implored protesters to vote.
“It’s our duty to get out and vote,” Broiles urged May 31. “We’re the ones that can change it.”
This is instructive as we pivot from statements to initiatives on behalf of social justice.
Voting is our most fundamental initiative. It is our most fundamental option when it comes to effecting change, and God knows we need change now that Derek Chauvin has exposed racist behavior always festering if not always seen in America.
Broiles speaks to that reality. So does University of Tulsa basketball coach Frank Haith.
“We talk to our guys about voting November 3,” Haith said this week. “I’m part of the NABC council, and one of the coaches at Georgia Tech (assistant Eric Reveno) talked about November 3 being a day off to encourage all of our student-athletes to get out and vote.”
This should happen tomorrow.
“I am definitely in favor of making Election Day a mandated day off for TU athletic programs as well as all intercollegiate athletic programs across the country,” TU athletic director Derrick Gragg said in a statement provided to the Tulsa World on Wednesday. “We know that student-athletes lead extremely busy lives, especially during the academic year. This would allow them more time on Election Day to exercise their important rights.”
These are words to govern by for Gragg’s NCAA peers.
There are complications, yes. Election Day falls on a football season Tuesday. Oklahoma is scheduled to play at West Virginia, Oklahoma State to play at Baylor and TU to play at Navy the following Saturday.
Schools would have to juggle practice schedules, and even some game schedules, to give their athletes the time off.
But that’s no excuse to keep from doing the right thing. If the NCAA fails to do right, conferences like the Big 12 and American must. If conferences fail, individual schools like OU, OSU and TU are the firewall.
Because universities are in the business of educating, are they not? They do prioritize civic duty over playbook study, do they not?
Universities must understand where we have arrived. They have monitored the tweets and statements of their athletes, perhaps even marched with them, and realize their hard, raw feelings.
Universities must remember their athletes juggle practices with classes, meetings, workouts and appointments. Their schedules are as relentless as they are inflexible.
And so universities must help their athletes – excuse me, their student-athletes — exercise their rights to 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments that they have been studying since junior high school.
They must issue that day off Nov. 3.
“I would expand that to include staff,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said Wednesday. “I don’t know how many of our staff vote in our elections, I would guess a large majority do. But it needs to be something everybody fulfills as a responsibility, especially if we’re going to lead by example for our student-athletes.
“So I would tell you it’s not just that type of action being discussed, but what we can do to help our student-athletes, and staff for that matter, with the issues on the ballot.”
I followed up by asking Castiglione about mandating, or at least pushing, that football players in particular be free of athletic activities Election Day.
“I’ve always found a way to vote. I didn’t have to take a day off,” he responded. “I think a lot of people figure out a way to vote, to work around a schedule. I don’t know if a day off itself is the message as much as creating enough time around that day so our student-athletes can be part of the process.
“We understand lines are longer for presidential elections. Polling places can only process so many people at a time. Some might even vote early through an absentee ballot approach. There are a lot of different ways available to vote.
“Again, that will be part of the pre-education.”
That sounds encouraging, but I prefer the mandated Election Day off.
I saw the lines for the Georgia primaries Tuesday. I anticipate they will be 10 times longer Nov. 3.
I saw Broiles’ address. I have seen the social media deluge from his fellow teammates and fellow college athletes the past two weeks.
I am aware that we encourage our youngest voters the most. Surely current events will spark young adults’ interest in this fundamental American right.
The momentum is encouraging. LSU, UCLA and UCF have advanced measures encouraging their athletes to vote. The Missouri football team marched to their county courthouse last week and 62 Tigers registered.
“Focusing on voter registration efforts prior to Election Day and education on the absentee ballot process are critical,” Gragg stated.
You see what Georgia Tech’s coach proposed. You read Castiglione’s comments.
This is progress that hopefully takes us to action.
I can’t think of a more effective act than voting.
I can’t think of a better show of support than NCAA institutions clearing the Election Day schedules of their athletes, to ensure that athletes can act.