The past seven months have forced athletes at every level to take time away from their normal routines. With games and practices canceled, they’ve never had more time to spend outside the lines, assessing the world around them in a whole new way. And though none of them wished for this bizarre reality, the shutdown has provided new opportunities for learning and growth outside of sports.
Whether at the high school, college, or professional level, athletes in particular have become more involved in championing causes, engaging in protest, or working to influence policy decisions by elected leaders.
In an effort to foster civic engagement from its student-athletes, the Long Beach State athletic department has started an initiative to reach 100 percent voter registration from its athletes, coaches and staff.
“Our student-athletes have become more active with wanting to make change,” said LBSU Athletic Director Andy Fee. “They’ve talked about it with their coaches and with the administration and we want to support them. We want them to use their voice however they wish, and that goes for coaches and staff as well. Sometimes you take things for granted, you take our country for granted and the freedoms and rights we have. They’ve talked about wanting to be more active and we’ve said whatever we can do to help, we’ll be part of that.”
Furthermore, Election Day will be free from any mandated team activities this year, allowing players and coaches plenty of time to vote on Nov. 3.
The push for increased voter participation was inspired through the women’s basketball program. After discussions with his players over the summer, head coach Jeff Cammon and his staff put together an assignment for the players. The team was split up into groups, and they were each tasked with researching and presenting about a different aspect of voting.
“They did an incredible job,” Cammon said of his team. “They took it seriously, because they really are engaged with what’s going on and because they want to make a difference. It was awesome.”
One of the veterans on the team, redshirt junior Naomi Hunt, said the assignment was a valuable experience for her and her teammates. One that they were eager to share with other programs as well.
“We became a lot more educated than we were before,” Hunt explained. “We put those presentations online for all the athletes to look at, and we tried to figure out a way to educate as many people as we can. We’re also trying to inform our friends and family, because there’s a lot of people who think voting is just voting for president, which is not correct, you’re voting for so much more.”
Hunt was already an involved student on campus, serving as the ASI Chairwoman of the Social Justice and Equity Committee last year. But recent events not only helped motivated her, they also inspired her teammates and fellow students to become more involved as well.
“It’s very important to me, and a lot of people aren’t very educated on how voting works and that their voice actually does matter. There’s a lot of people who think if they don’t vote it doesn’t matter, but if a million people say that, it makes a big impact.”
Hunt mentioned the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests from this past summer as a catalyst for her classmates’ increased involvement in social issues. It was certainly a topic of discussion among the team and the coaching staff, and while those conversations can be heavy, Cammon has been impressed with his team’s response to this challenging time.
“(The pandemic) has forced us to really slow down and look at what’s around us,” he explained. “No matter what you believe, we’ve all been limited. … This situation allowed us to really see and process things that have been going on for a long time. You couldn’t dodge it. No matter what you did, it was on center stage. This situation has allowed this younger generation to really stop and say ‘Wow, this is what was going on in this world and we want to make a difference.’ I’m just encouraged by the energy and optimism of this generation.”