WASHINGTON – It’s just past noon Election day, after casting her vote where the NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals played, Mary Pittman exited through one of the arena’s glass doors. Perched on top of a 77-year-old retired walker: a star-and-stripe hat touting the basketball team, autographed on the rim in fresh black ink.
“There are no lines,” Pittman said of Tuesday’s vote. “No waiting. There is no confusion. No hassle. “
At a time when athletes are embracing activism like never before, refusing to heed the baseless warnings framed two years ago by one of the TV heads who spoke as “shut up and dribble,” there is clear symbolism in extensive use of team arenas and stadiums as voter registration and polling stations.
If the United States playing field was ever walled off from politics – Colin Kaepernick, whose 33rd birthday happened on Tuesday, saw the sideline kneel to draw attention to police brutality and systemic racism contributing to his status as a “former NFL midfielder” – they would have been be fertile ground for such statements in 2020.
“Athletes, like anyone, are entitled to their opinion,” said Pittman. “But I don’t have to agree with that.”
And it doesn’t matter, said Ish Smith, the Wizards keeper who signed Pittman’s hat.
“I love and respect how we have … been able to talk about certain things that, in the past, were uncomfortable. It says a lot. Tells how far we have come as athletes. And we will continue to grow, continue to develop, “said Smith.
“Sports and politics – usually people take one side,” he said. Now they are related.
Indeed, that crossing has never felt like it is now, both manifest in messages on the field and jerseys during the NBA season. Or a strike carried out by the league’s players and followed by others from tennis to hockey. Or the unfolding of the black ribbon held by the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees before they knelt in unison in the first game of the Major League Baseball season.
“When I play, players and coaches never – maybe never; rarely – are asked about politics and voting, ”said Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “But the timing is different. Our country is in chaos, and everyone plays a role. “
Tuesday, meanwhile, is a rare day in the US without a scoreboard.
There is no competition. There is no practice. None (other than somewhat boring NFL trading deadlines).
Some of this is thanks to the coronavirus pandemic – the 2020-21 NBA and NHL seasons are usually going to go well, but the delayed completion of the previous season is pushing forward the upcoming retreat – and some of it because of Election Day. The NFL and Major League Soccer ordered everyone to take time off work. Likewise, the NCAA prohibits any upper division college team from playing or training.
But the presence of sport was felt.
Athletes can “encourage people to listen to one another, to come together and come together, more than just separate,” said Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores. “I think that’s important for a lot of players. I think they want better for the world. “
There have been far-reaching, non-partisan “voice-out” efforts supported by players, teams, and the league itself, including the Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James’ “More Than a Vote” group formed shortly after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breona Taylor in Louisville.
There are also athletes – and former athletes – trying to tell people which candidate, party or position they support: President Donald Trump’s tweeted endorsement by Jack Nicklaus of golf and Brett Favre of football; rallying a speech in support of former Vice President Joe Biden by Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers; Phone calls boost Biden by Olympic figure skating medalist Michelle Kwan. In August, twice NBA MVP Stephen Curry appeared with his wife, Ayesha, and their two daughters in a video supporting Biden during the Democratic National Convention.
It’s an environment where Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Compton, NASCAR racer Bubba Wallace and others proudly note they’re voting for the first time. And led WNBA players Tamika Catchings and Chiney Ogwumike to sign up for polling officers. Dan led Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul to join the nearly 2,500 people in the march to the polls in North Carolina. And lead the security Rodney McLeod and some of the Eagle teammates encouraged voter turnout by taking a double-decker bus around Philadelphia.
Part of that enthusiasm is, of course, the result of Trump’s offensive, which vehemently denounces the peaceful protests of Kaepernick and other players and encourages more athletes and teams than in the past to miss the traditional championship visit to the White House.
Wallace, the only full-time NASCAR driver who is a Black national, found himself on Twitter back and forth with Trump in July, which he described Tuesday as “being thrown into the political flames” – and connected his decision to choose.
Wallace thinks athletes will get themselves heard regularly now.
“You can’t do it once,” he said. “This is definitely something that will continue. And I continue to encourage other athletes to continue to exercise their rights, use the platform, use their voice. “
As Warriors guard Damion Lee said: “This is when everyone is ready for it. This is not a moment; it’s a movement. “
AP Sports writers Doug Feinberg, Jenna Fryer, Dan Gelston, Kyle Hightower, Mark Long, Rob Maaddi, Janie McCauley, Charles Odum, Anne M. Peterson, Dave Skretta, Teresa M. Walker, John Wawrow, Steven Wine and Tom Withers contributed to this report.
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