Freshman wing Jace Howard sat in front of a photo of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali as he talked to media the day before Election Day.
“Right now (the Michigan men’s basketball team) are at 100% voted,” Howard said in the Zoom press conference Monday afternoon.
It was one of 14 University teams to reach 100% voter registration by Election Day, an achievement that the University and Athletic Department are quite proud of following a meager 44.7% voter participation rate among students in 2016.
This change in voting culture amongst student athletes can be attributed to the results of the 2016 election and the United States’ current political climate. But it must be acknowledged that this impressive turnout is really an accumulation of many smaller efforts.
Foremost among these is the change in NCAA policy regarding Election Day. On Sept. 16, the NCAA Division I Council approved legislation to prohibit practice and competition on Election Day. Beyond the codification of a scheduled day off, there has been a significant increase in the emphasis placed on student-athletes voting.
Michigan Athletics, in partnership with the Big Ten’s Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition and student-athlete-run Victors Vote, ran a campaign to register as many student-athletes as possible.
Having general conversations is one thing, but having a willingness to take action is another thing entirely—and the latter is exactly what Howard has brought to the table this election season.
“Coach Howard talked to us about that (the election) last week,” senior wing Chaundee Brown said. “He said he wants everyone to vote.
“He feels like that’s really important. He said, because we’re having an off day (on election day) so everyone can vote and everything. All of the coaches take it really seriously.”
It’s that level of commitment and willingness to act that establishes a positive voting culture. And that culture has already manifested itself in the hearts and minds of the players.
“I feel like it’s important for everybody to go out and vote; no matter who you support, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Jace Howard said. “I just feel like it’s a right that we all should use, and I try to encourage my teammates to do it.”
Jace Howard is certainly not alone in his desire to see his team mobilized, and the administrative changes helped their cause, but the poster that sat behind him put the situation into perspective.
Ali and Malcom X inspired millions — Howard included. And heeding their words, Howard and his team got out and made their voices heard, making themselves part of a shift that is carrying the U.S. to its highest voter participation rate since 1900.
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