It was the mid-1990s, and a young C.J. Lee had just seen the film “Malcolm X.”
Lee wasn’t even 10 years old, too young to understand the ideals and tactics of the revolutionary leader, but he noticed how Malcolm X dealt with struggles larger than himself, and the convictions of a man striving for a cause.
“Regardless if you agree with him or not, it was something that was inspiring for me at a young age,” said Lee, a fifth-year senior guard on the Michigan men’s basketball team. “That kind of triggered something. I wanted to know how society works and how we operate together.”
With his interest in politics sparked, Lee enjoyed taking government classes through middle school and high school. During his last high school semester, the line between basketball and politics merged — his varsity coach, John Nally, was also his government teacher.
Lee followed the political path through college and now holds a bachelor’s degree in political science. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the Ford School of Public Policy.
Lee voted in the 2004 election, but this election season, the Pittsford, N.Y., native has expanded his impact. He has stressed to his teammates the importance of participating in the political process and understanding the candidates’ stances.
“C.J.’s always talking about political issues,” redshirt junior forward Zack Gibson said. “He knows a lot about that, so it’s good to get some information.”
The Wolverines have 11 players who are eligible to vote in their first presidential election. Lee has used the locker room and other casual settings to emphasize a broader view of politics, encouraging his teammates to read as much as possible, take in multiple perspectives and make their own decisions.
Lee wouldn’t say who he voted for when he sent in his absentee ballot in October, but said the biggest issue for him personally is that a candidate shows compassion towards others through their thoughts and actions. Rather than forcing one’s ideas on another, Lee has tried to take a comprehensive approach to learning about candidates’ platforms from direct sources such as their official websites.
“I think we need a leader who can galvanize and rally everyone and inspire them not only to be better for themselves, but be better for our country,” Lee said “I think we’re at a time where people are trying to really separate us based on our differences.”
Lee uses a similar mentality in his locker room discussions. When moral issues like abortion arise, it’s easy for a person to become defensive, but Lee retains his focus on the broader picture.
“He didn’t really try to like force his views, but he said it was important everyone gets out and votes,” freshman Zack Novak said. “He wasn’t trying to get some extra votes for his guy. He just let us make our own decisions.”
Novak, a Chesterton, Ind., native, registered in Ann Arbor this fall, saying he didn’t want to send in an absentee ballot. He said some important issues for him were the Iraq war, taxes and abortion, but felt he took some things away from his discussions with Lee.
“I paid attention to what he had to say,” Novak said. “He gave me a new perspective on things.”
Novak said he will vote in the Michigan Union today along with many other Michigan students.