Michigan softball student-athletes use their platform to promote change in the upcoming election

Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 10:19pm

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins played a major role in registering her team to vote this fall.

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins played a major role in registering her team to vote this fall. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Four days remain until the most anticipated election in recent memory. For the Michigan softball team, this moment serves as a turning point for a better future. 

The entire team has registered to vote in this upcoming election and most have voted or plan to vote next Tuesday. It was not an effortless process to get to where they are today. It all started this summer when coach Carol Hutchins came to fifth-year senior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad. 

“Hutch came to me and was like, ‘We (have) gotten this survey from the Big Ten,’ ” Hoogenraad said. “ … We had at this point — it was due in 2 days — and we had four people on our team that had filled it out. It kind of went from there because Hutch was like, ‘I want to put you in charge to make sure that everyone has filled out the survey, that everybody is taking the right steps to being registered to vote.’”

Hoogenraad returns to Ann Arbor for her final year, as she lost her senior season due to COVID-19. Things are very different this time around. While her and the team’s focus are to compete for a national championship, there are bigger factors at play. 

“Hutch has made it a huge part of emphasis on her part that we make sure that we can influence the people that we can reach,” Hoogenraad said. 

Athletes are provided a platform in their communities, especially at a school like Michigan. In addition to making her team aware of some of these societal issues, Hutchins wanted her team to take action. 

“You’ve got to be active,” Hutchins said on the Conqu’ring Heroes podcast. “You can’t sit around and complain about the way things are. ‘Yeah, what can we do?’ Well, the first thing ... is to vote. … You need to study the issues and find ways to put people in place that will be on board with making society better.”

The dilemma is that voting has been neglected historically. In any given election, only between 35-60 percent of eligible voters on average actually vote. An underwhelming amount of people actually exercise their right to choose the people who will make policies that affect the lives of themselves and those around them. 

“You always have those people that come in and are very like, ‘Yeah, my family doesn’t really vote or feel like their vote isn’t really important,’ ” Hoogenraad said. “I think that can be a general sentiment that you can assign pretty easily among the American public, where people just don’t really feel politically (effective) at all.”

But things feel a little different this time around. Over 80 million people have already voted in this election –– a record number four days before Election Day. Celebrities, athletes, public figures and many more people have used their platform to mobilize people to vote this time. Just check out this video the athletic department posted of student-athletes:

“It’s been very cool to see these bigger organizations or bigger leadership programs in our lives, actually go out of their way to make sure that we know that (voting is important),” Hoogenraad said. “I get an email almost every single week from the university, from the president, I got an email from my academic advisor even about the importance of voting and everything.”

The University of Michigan has also joined the first-ever Big Ten Voting Challenge, where schools across the conference will compete for the highest turnout in this election. The Ginsberg Center for Student Life at the University has created a section on its website dedicated to educating and informing students about how to vote and its importance. 

In addition to social media pushes, the athletic department has also allowed student-athletes to wear social justice patches with messages on their jerseys and equipment. Last week, the Michigan football team wore these on their uniforms during the Minnesota game:

 

In anticipation of Election Day, the team will now be wearing a voting patch on their helmets as well during their game against Michigan State. 

“The social justice patches are a huge deal,” Hoogenraad said. “ … A lot of the athletic (teams have) games televised on Big Ten Network or sometimes ESPN, so I feel like that actually is a big deal and I’m glad the NCAA allowed us to be a part of our season.”

Another large component of the athletic department’s efforts has been canceling all practices and mandatory activities on Nov. 3. 

“(The NCAA) taking that step and doing these different movements (and) also making (voting) so it’s not a chore that you have to go out of your way to do as much and something like, ‘Hey, we’re literally giving you the day off from practice and sporting activities so you can go and vote where you are,’ I think that that was huge,” Hoogenraad said.

Whether or not these efforts will prove effective, people are paying attention to their communities. 

For all the proof you need, look at the Michigan softball team. In a normal year, they would just be a team of student-athletes preparing for their season. Now, they are planning on how they plan on using their influence for change and different ways they can promote social justice during their season in the spring. 

“I hope that this press — to get people out to vote — genuinely continues to be a movement (and) continues to stick with people, because you can make a bigger impact in your life than you think you can,” Hoogenraad said.

For the time being though, the focus remains on Nov. 3. 

“I’m a supporter of using that right (to vote) and that privilege — as all Americans are,” Hutchins said. “... Everybody talks about this being the most important election in our history. Well, I’m older than most folks and I can tell you, I believe it is. It’s important that people turn out, their voices are heard.”