Where Sports And My Politics Intersect

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Now that we’ve passed the halfway point of 2020, it’s logical, maybe even mandatory, to take account of the year’s significant events to date. However, since this has been a historically strange and treacherous year to put it lightly, even a short list is devastating for only having occupied a handful of months.

First up, of course, is the deadly Coronavirus pandemic that has left 138,000 (and rapidly rising) U.S. casualties in its wake. Directly connected to that, the multi-month shutdown of our nation’s economy that will end if and when we all start collectively stopping the virus. And then there’s the series of unrelated but still tangentially connected protests against police brutality and systemic racism in every state and around the world.

Counting only those three things leaves more than enough for us to reckon with this year.

But the world spins onward, and relics from the before times, like our beloved sport leagues, are actively trying to resurrect themselves in the face of these and several other ongoing challenges.

The NBA plans to resume its postponed season for a playoff tournament on July 30th at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. But between lingering injuries, current infections, or looming concerns about staying healthy, almost half of the 22 NBA teams planning on attending have been impacted…and it’s still two weeks away.

The MLB plans to launch a shortened, 60-game season on July 23rd or 24th, but some of the league’s most prominent players are already talking about sitting it out. Among those who have announced their intentions to miss this season, former Seattle Mariner pitchers (King) Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake join high-profile names like Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and David Price.

The NFL plans to kick off a mostly regular season on September 10th, albeit with a likely shortened preseason and a limited number of fans in the stands. According to unnamed league sources, the NFL and NFLPA are expected to meet soon in hopes of ironing out a return to work plan. Reportedly, players want no preseason games and testing every day, while the league wants two preseason games and less-frequent testing, such as every other day. Fortunately for the NFL, there’s plenty of time to wait, watch, and learn from the MLB’s and NBA’s reopening successes and failures—ultimately applying the best lessons to their own season in the fall.

It’s worth noting that these optimistic start dates were all decided weeks ago when COVID-19 was on the general decline. Currently, as the virus rampages across a large majority of our 50 states, it is my opinion that these leagues actually playing games is anything but certain.

Actually, scratch that. These slapdash seasons going haywire is a lock.

And yet, as we collectively embrace the warmth of summer and eagerly fantasize about watching, if not magically attending a sporting event of ANY kind, it’s hard to not look ahead on the calendar and worry.

Given how poorly we’ve responded to the pandemic thus far, I’m more fearful about what’s ahead than what we’ve already endured. Not only is COVID-19 still in full-swing, but in a few months our country will face new predicaments that are going to make matters exponentially worse.

By September, right around the time that the NFL plans to kick off their season, public schools will struggle to reopen safely under threat of funding cuts. Struggling schools will both limit any potential economic recovery and force too many parents to pick between feeding their kids and keeping them safe.

Then as the election in November draws close, fresh gallons of fuel will be added to the divisive fires already burning across our country’s culture, essentially guaranteeing a continuation, if not an escalation, of the national in-fighting we’ve all normalized (and become exhausted by) over the last several years.

In my opinion, the solution to these problems is voting.

The outcome of the election will either double-down on the country’s current course or offer an alternative path. A different vision for where we can go and how we can all get there together.

Not that casting a vote in and of itself is enough to fend off the horrors currently defining our lives. While voting out the current administration would make a huge impact on the Coronavirus pandemic (because, science!) and divisive culture wars (because, empathy!), we will still have an abundance of problems to address.

Voting isn’t a cure-all for everything ailing America, but it is the baseline from where change is made.

Fortunately, across the nation new leaders have emerged to represent their generation in the fight to fix the parts of America that have been fragmented. Even from within the world of sports, icons have emerged to meet the societal issues of our time, marshalling their platforms for our collective good.

Back in June, NBA superstar LeBron James led a group of prominent black athletes and entertainers to found a nonprofit group aimed at protecting African Americans’ voting rights called More Than a Vote.

More Than a Vote will split its efforts between inspiring African Americans to vote in November and combating minority voter suppression. Of his organization’s purpose, James said:

“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial. We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.”

As the effort has gained awareness, others have been drawn in by the bright light of positive change. Joining James in support of More Than a Vote are current NBA players Draymond Green, Eric Bledsoe and Trae Young, former NBA players Stephen Jackson, Kendrick Perkins, Udonis Haslem and Jalen Rose, as well as WNBA players Skylar Diggins-Smith and Chiney Ogwumike.

And yet, arguably the most significant contribution to the More Than a Vote cause came more recently from the reigning Super Bowl MVP and now, highest-paid player in the history of sports, Patrick Mahomes.

After getting involved in the #StrongerTogether NFL player video calling for greater accountability by the NFL around the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Mahomes understood his face-of-the-league status meant getting more involved. Mahomes explained how he and others, like Kansas City Chiefs teammate, Tyrann Mathieu, can create a positive impact by supporting a voter registration drive.

“I think it came from talking and listening to teammates and people throughout our organization. Obviously, with voting coming up for local offices and everything like that, we wanted to make sure that was in the front of our minds.”

More Than a Vote, powered by its growing network of A-List athlete supporters have advocated for empty NBA arenas and other large sports venues being turned into large-scale polling sites ahead of the November election.

As a result, the Atlanta Hawks announced plans to convert State Farm Arena into a polling location for both the primary runoff election and the November general election. The Detroit Pistons announced similar intentions with their training facility.

Commitments like these carry multifaceted benefits, as larger polling stations both allow for potentially more people to vote at once while also letting voters feel safe maintaining social distances amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The phrase “CHANGE ISN’T MADE BY WATCHING FROM THE SIDELINES” headlines the More Than a Vote website. And in these often dark and challenging times, I find comfort and hope in the efforts of individuals who grasp the meaning of that mantra.

To see yourself as a small part of the solution—your actions as tiny, but critical contributions to the enormous challenge—is what leaders do. In this moment of our history, when elected leadership has failed, I’m not the least bit surprised to see unelected citizens, albeit celebrity athletes, standing up for the issues and people they care about.

As I said earlier, the list of issues facing our country is lengthy and complicated, but almost every single problem, challenge, or crisis can be positively affected when regular people vote.

To that end, make sure you’re registered to vote and are able to vote either remotely or in-person. Additionally, if you have the means, support the initiatives you care about with your time, attention, and maybe a donation.

If change isn’t made by watching from the sidelines, then we all need to get in the game if we want to win

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About Author

Jon Aiken

Born and raised in Seattle, Jon developed a deep love for the Mariners and Seahawks and continues to watch, analyze, and discuss them on a daily basis. As a professional advertising copywriter, the blending of these two loves (sports/words) seemed like a natural creative evolution. He recently moved south to Tacoma, fully embracing his new hometeam, the Rainers.

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