- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Head coaches can often be creatures of routine. But this week, Maryland football coach Mike Locksley made an exception to the usual schedule, opting to adjust his practice plans to ensure his players had the chance to participate in Tuesday’s elections.

Instead of having Sunday off, the Terrapins practiced. That freed up Tuesday as an off-day, and “quite a few” football players took advantage of the time to take on active Election Day roles, like volunteering at Xfinity Center, which is serving as a polling station this year.

“Part of their thoughts with the social justice issues going on, they wanted to make a difference, and do it via educating people on the voting process, including themselves,” Locksley said Monday. “I’m happy and proud of our guys that they’ll be exercising their rights [Tuesday] at the polls, but also helping others at the polls as well.”

Maryland’s athletes were part of a trend that saw sports figures across the region and the country making their voices heard on Election Day, with calls to vote on social media or appearances at polling stations to encourage political participation.

It goes beyond athletes, too, with sports teams opening their facilities as polling stations to provide voters more location options. At least 39 major professional sports arenas were converted into polling stations across the country, although some were only available for early voting.

In the Washington, D.C., area, FedEx Field, Nationals Park and Capital One Arena welcomed voters. And at Capital One Arena, Wizards players Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield and Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins greeted voters.

“I just voted; what a great day,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said in a video the team posted to Twitter. “I’m so thankful for all the volunteers and for our organization for opening up Capital One Arena.”

In Milwaukee, Miller Park and Fiserv Forum were scrapped as polling stations last month out of fear the ballots could be legally challenged.

According to AP, city officials planned to use the Bucks’ and Brewers’ stadiums for early voting. But the deadline to register an early voting center was June 12, and the plans to use Fiserv Forum and Miller Park didn’t come together until Sept. 1.

Other stadiums, such as CenturyLink Field in Seattle and Staples Center in Los Angeles, are among those facilities successfully set up to receive voters Tuesday.

“This is historic for the Lakers, for the NBA, for sports period,” executive director of the Lakers Youth Foundation Kiesha Nix told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s the first time we’ve been actively involved in hosting and sponsoring voting centers.

“The turning point for us is listening to our players. Not that we hadn’t listened to them before, but with all of the events that have gone on … they said, ‘Hey, what we’re doing is not enough; we have to do more.’”

Last month, Denver Nuggets power forward Paul Millsap decided to take more responsibility on himself. He transformed his own training facility — a 44,000-square foot complex — in DeKalb County, Georgia, into an early voting center.

It was a continuation of Millsap’s efforts to encourage voter participation, having worn “Vote” on the back of his jersey inside the NBA bubble. He’s also a member of the “I am a Voter” campaign, which aims to boost voter participation.

“The 2020 Election is believed to be the most important in our lifetime,” Millsap tweeted. “Therefore, I’ve chosen to become more involved in the voting process by using my social media platform to encourage voting and my facility as a Dekalb County early voting polling station.”

Other athletes have led voting initiatives, including LeBron James, who is working with the “More Than a Vote” organization. It’s a voting rights group seeking to combat voter suppression by “educating, energizing and protecting our community in 2020,” the website reads.

Eagles safety Rodney McLeod and wife, Erika, are encouraging voter participation in Philadelphia through their “My Voice My Vote” initiative. The Mcleods’ initiative is a nonpartisan group with the goal of providing voter education, activation and community organizing.

“We want to make voting popular. We want to make voting cool,” McLeod said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “And so we’ve decided to turn it into this pep rally and encouraging voters. We’re going from various sites throughout the city, bringing a DJ, tying in city officials, other Eagles players, other influencers to kind of rally behind and support everyone who has taken the time to go out and vote.”

Especially in a battleground state like Pennsylvania, where President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden are closely locked, every vote matters.

“It’s a very important election,” McLeod told the Associated Press. “We wanted to be advocates for voter education, voter awareness, making sure that people are getting to the polls.”


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