On Aug. 23, a video went viral of a police officer shooting a Black man named Jacob Blake seven times in his back in front of his family in Kenosha, Wisc. Yet another disturbing story of police brutality, the shooting of Blake sent shockwaves to the growing protests and marches that had been happening since June in cities across the country.
Three days later, the Milwaukee Bucks’ players decided that it was not appropriate to continue playing sports as the country continued to burn both physically and spiritually. The ensuing league-wide boycott cancelled the remaining NBA games for several days, all while in the midst of a hotly contested playoff. The rest of the sports world followed, as athletes demonstrated that there were bigger things at play than sports.
Seeing the horrific videos and hearing about the stories that have been circulating these past few months, Michigan senior defensive lineman Kwity Paye, along with many other athletes around the country, felt that it was too hard to continue to do his job and go along with his normal life.
“During camp, a lot of news was breaking out about police killing a Black man,” Paye told The Daily. “A lot of people were outraged with all the social injustice going on.”
Paye and graduate Michigan defensive lineman Carlo Kemp couldn’t stand being complacent, so they decided to take action. The one thing they could control was getting themselves and their team registered to vote.
“It was something that we’ve wanted for a while,” Paye said, “For me, although I have never voted before, it was something that I felt like I had to do. To make change, the change I want, it starts with voting and getting registered was the first step in doing that.”
So, last Thursday, Paye and Kemp led an initiative to register the Michigan football team to vote in the upcoming November election.
“There was one day after practice,” Paye said, “me and Carlo had to call (director of player personnel) Sean Magee one day a while ago and we were like ‘Is it possible for the whole team to get registered to vote?’ … One day randomly after practice, we walk into the locker room and the table was set up and they got guys registered to vote.”
Elections are a staple of a democracy, and the best way that citizens can have an immediate impact on their community is by choosing the people they think fit their beliefs and ideas on how to solve issues and lead.
However, the past few years, many people, especially young people, have refrained from voting and neglected their right. In 2016, only 58.1% of voting-eligible people turned out to vote and despite young people (18-29 year olds) making up a third of those people, only half of them actually voted.
“For a while,” Paye said, “the older generation thought that we weren’t the type to fight back or the type to go out and do these protests or the type to stand up for what we think is right.”
But this election feels different from the rest. There’s so much at stake as this country handles the worst pandemic seen in a century, as well as the uprising of sweeping social movements. Paye and many other community leaders agree that now is the right time for people to get active in making decisions that could affect their lives by using their right to vote.
“I would say it is just really different,” Paye said, “… We are getting a lot more of the younger generation into voting, because we have seen what has happened in past years where our generation doesn’t vote. We don’t get what we want in office, so for us, it’s a duty.”
Many young athletes argue that getting involved in the voting process is the best way to do that. On June 22, LeBron James and his business team created ‘More than a Vote,’ an organization — consisting of Black athletes and artists — to encourage participation in elections and make it easier for people to register and request ballots.
Like James, Paye and Kemp have realized the potential for using their platform for good. They decided to start internally by getting themselves registered, before going out and encouraging others to do the same.
“We just wanted to do our part,” Paye said. “Make sure that we’re voting. Just because the stuff that’s going on right now, it’s just ridiculous.”
Most of Kemp and Paye’s teammates were not even registered to vote prior to this month, so they jumped at this opportunity that Kemp and Paye provided.
“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. “We preach that at the university, staying together and being a family. That’s something that was helpful for us and we took pride in everyone getting registered to vote.”
Michigan football players know what’s at stake come November, and they want to make sure they do their part to fight for the issues they think are important for them. They understand that — as young people — they are the future, and the issues present now are ones that will continue to affect them unless any change happens.
“The next generation is gonna be possibly taking over this country,” Paye said, “and we are gonna have to be ones to make decisions. The younger generation has the obligation to start doing things now and showing that they can be responsible enough in the near future to fix what’s wrong and just do what’s right by the other citizens.”