For pro ath­letes, vot­ing can re­quire mak­ing ex­tra ef­fort

Chang­ing res­i­dences, road trips can make it dif­fi­cult

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Krawczynski

Toronto Rap­tors coach Dwane Casey grew up in Ken­tucky in the 1960s, a child dur­ing the civil rights move­ment who wit­nessed the ef­forts of those in power to dis­en­fran­chise peo­ple of color and slow their push for equal­ity.

So ev­ery two years, when elec­tion time ar­rives in the United States, Casey drives home to his play­ers the im­por­tance of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the vot­ing process.

“I tell my play­ers, ‘Get your ab­sen­tee bal­lots and vote,’ ” Casey said. “I re­mem­ber my grand­par­ents talk­ing about when African-Amer­i­cans couldn’t vote. Or they tried to make it hard for them to vote.

“So that is a priv­i­lege a lot of peo­ple fought for, you went to jail for. Ev­ery­one should vote.”

Casey has been par­tic­u­larly in­sis­tent since he started coach­ing the NBA’s only Cana­dian team. The Rap­tors em­ploy a bunch of Amer­i­can play­ers far re­moved from their lo­cal polling places, and Casey en­cour­ages them to think ahead so that the grind of the NBA sea­son doesn’t cost them their say in the elec­tion.

“That’s your way of show­ing power as an in­di­vid­ual,” Casey said. “We­can­protest, but the only way you fight stuff like that is through vot­ing. Us­ing your right to vote.”

Many ath­letes have to rely on ab­sen­tee bal­lots, ei­ther be­cause they re­side per­ma­nently in a dif­fer­ent state from their team or be­cause they are on the road on Elec­tion Day.

Sev­eral teams have taken steps to help. The NFL’s Min­nesota Vik­ings roll out a voter-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram ev­ery two years to en­sure play­ers, coaches and staff mem­bers un­der­stand vot­ing prac­tices in Min­nesota.

“It’s a right, and ev­ery­body needs to ex­er­cise their rights,” said Lester Ba­gley, Vik­ings ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of le­gal af­fairs and sta­dium devel­op­ment. “Make it as easy as pos­si­ble, an­swer the ques­tions, get them the re­sources, con­nect them. It’s ev­ery two years and it’s a di­rect mes­sage to all staff, all play­ers to par­tic­i­pate and here’s how to do it.”

The Vik­ings also joined with the Min­nesota sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice in a pub­lic-ser­vice an­nounce­ment to en­cour­age fans to vote Tues­day, a lo­cal cam­paign sim­i­lar to the na­tional two put out by the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion fea­tur­ing LeBron James, Carmelo An­thony and other NBA stars.

James has en­dorsed Hil­lary Clin­ton and ap­peared at a rally for her this week. But the PSA fea­tur­ing James only en­cour­aged peo­ple to ex­er­cise their right to vote and didn’t ad­vo­cate for a can­di­date.

That’s the same ap­proach the Vik­ings take. Ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of player devel­op­ment Les Pico be­gan the voter ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram when he ar­rived with the fran­chise in 2005. This year, the team emailed play­ers three times to en­cour­age them to reg­is­ter, placed forms in their lock­ers re­mind­ing them to get an ab­sen­tee bal­lot and of­fered help in as­sist­ing them to reg­is­ter in their home states.

Re­tired NBA star Baron Davis wrote a piece for The Play­ers’ Tri­bune re­mind­ing ath­letes to vote. He said it can be easy for ath­letes to skip the prac­tice, be­liev­ing their votes will not in­flu­ence the out­come of an elec­tion enough to take time away from their hec­tic sched­ules.

“At this time in our coun­try, it’s easy to feel like things haven’t been work­ing for us,” Davis wrote. “But the so­lu­tion is not to just say, I won’t do any­thing about it. The so­lu­tion is to take what we know about im­prov­ing — whether it be in sports, or in your life — and ap­ply it to our prob­lems.”

NICK WASS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“That is a priv­i­lege a lot of peo­ple fought for, you went to jail for. Ev­ery­one should vote,” said Rap­tors coach Dwane Casey, who grew up in Ken­tucky in the 1960s.

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