Nicholas Stoll: Athletes want to use their platform to create change. Soon, we’ll know if the country agrees.
Politics and sports are far from separate.
They can’t be. Not if you’re a woman. Not if you’re Black. Not if you’re LGBTQ+. And not if you’re surrounded by teammates whose lives can be affected by an election — this election.
“To make change, the change I want, it starts with voting,” senior defensive lineman Kwity Paye said in September.
“We’re all just really excited to exercise our right because we just feel like a lot of things have to change and this is the best way to do it,” Michigan volleyball sophomore middle blocker Jess Robinson said in October.
And it’s no surprise that the word these athletes chose is “change.” Almost always, “change” and “progressive” are synonymous. Though publicly they might not say which specific candidate they support, the student-athletes’ word choice is enough: It means a Democratic lean with Joe Biden at the head of the ticket.
“Black men and Black women being killed by police isn’t normal,” senior defensive back Hunter Reynolds said in September. “Things shouldn’t just go on as normal.”
And I wish I didn’t have to say protesting for equal rights and equal treatment of Black people was a partisan issue, but it is, and it’s Democratic. These athletes don’t want to see people that look like them or their teammates continue to be assaulted and murdered by police.
“A lot of people right now feel helpless because there are a lot of bad things in the news,” Robinson said. “Life is pretty insane right now, but one thing we can change in this world is our government — the people representing us — and the way to do that is voting.”
Robinson is right. We can’t individually stop the pandemic, reform the police or save the environment. But we can individually vote. Add a single tally to the people you believe can do those things, or at least reserve the opportunity to do so.
“It was just something as a world, we have to take on and vote and change the world and make it a better place,” senior defensive back Brad Hawkins said in September.
After all this, it would be hypocritical for these student athletes not to vote, but don’t expect that to be the case.
After all, there are 14 Michigan teams whose entire rosters have registered to vote: baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s cross country, women’s golf, women’s gymnastics, men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, softball, men’s tennis, women’s tennis and volleyball.
Not to mention the football team which has undergone voter registration initiatives, increasing its total number of players registered in the process.
As far as the act of voting itself goes, the NCAA has them covered there as well, allowing for Election Day to be a mandatory off-day for all student-athletes. Those who have not voted early or by mail have the opportunity to travel to their local polling places to cast their vote without the time constraint of practice or workouts.
“It’s a huge opportunity, really, to have a day off, to go out there and vote, cause you do have to wait in long lines sometimes, drive really far to go to a polling station,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Carlo Kemp said. “I think it’s a really cool opportunity that we all get to have to get out of our circle of always being in the routine of lifting, practicing, playing games and have a chance to have our voices heard as well.”
Now here we are: the election.
Votes are rolling in and a picture is beginning to appear. Still, we don’t definitively know a winner. Even reading this on Wednesday, Nov. 4 or after, it’s not guaranteed we will know the answer.
Michigan’s student-athletes are ready for change. The remaining question: Is America ready?
Hopefully, we’ll know soon.